Upminster Ian, the cheeky poet of pop

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The Independent Culture

Ian Dury, actor, broadcaster, charity worker and above all punk icon, died yesterday at his home in north-west London surrounded by his family and with a smile on his face. Dury, known for his cheery acceptance of disability and illness, died from cancer of the liver, aged 57, after a public three-year fight against the disease.

A career that started in the Seventies with Kilburn and the High Roads and traded on his Cockney wit through and beyond the punk era, branched into television and charity work in his last years.

Nick Dale, of The Rough Guide to Rock, said of Dury's unlikely rise to fame in 1977: "Though his brand of Cockney recitation over a solid backing was never punk, its success owed a lot to the New Wave's rough-and-ready values, for Dury had as much street cred as anyone around, plus twice as much wit." His style and attitude made him an influence on a range of musicians from the ska sounds of Madness to the mockney pop of Blur.

Yesterday the Madness singer Suggs hailed Dury as "more of a poet than a rock'n' roll artist" and credited him with opening minds to "all the possibilities for people that didn't look like rock stars". Fellow punk icon Malcolm McLaren paid a brief tribute: "Long live Kilburn and the High Roads."

Dury, disabled by polio since childhood, campaigned for polio vaccination, going to the Sri Lankan war zone with Robbie Williams to encourage children to be vaccinated. In a nod to his political beliefs, he said he had reservations about private medicine, "because I'm a socialist, but I don't want to go on no waiting-list and end up a dead socialist". Dury called himself "Britain's best-known raspberry ripple" and proudly and volubly flew the flag for the acceptance of disability. Hecoupled handsome hard-man looks with the ungainly frame of a polio victim.

Part of the generation of art- school pop stars, Dury, who studied at Walthamstow College of Art, was chosen by Peter Blake to provide a soundtrack for his 1983 Tate retrospective. He was recently back on television, advertising a newspaper, and worked for children's organisations. He continued to perform at gigs, including Paul Weller's annual outdoor London festival in August 1998.

Attached to a drip, Dury made the most of his final months, speaking matter-of-factly about death. He sought to remove the taboos about the disease which had taken his first wife, Betty, and some of his closest friends.

While he will be remembered as the embodiment of Cockney pop, his embrace of Cockney mannerisms may have owed as much to showbiz nous as upbringing. His mother was a well-spoken graduate and the Cockney was partly a reaction to Dury's despised grammar school in not-very-gritty High Wycombe. His chauffeur father and mother separated when he was three and he was brought up by his mother at his aunt's in Upminster, Essex.

He believes he caught polio on a trip to a Southend swimming-pool when he was seven; the illness irreparably damaged one arm and leg, so he required calipers.

His most polemical moment was "Spasticus Autisticus" in 1981, whose message about the negative image of cerebral palsy was considered so strong it was omitted from radio playlists and failed to chart. Dury was typically unrepentant and called for it to become the theme for the Year of the Disabled.

As rock'n'roll became "exhausting", he switched increasingly to an acting career, ranging from Roman Polanski's Pirates and Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover to the stage play Road. His tongue-in-cheek anthem "Sex 'n' Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll" was enlisted for Aids education in 1987 with his approval - "two of these just became more dangerous," he said.

He leaves four children, two grown up, from his first marriage to Elizabeth, which ended in divorce in 1985, and two young children from his second marriage, to the sculptress Sophie Tilson.