Bill Tarmey, who played the role of Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street for more than 30 years, has died aged 71.
The actor died yesterday morning while on holiday in Tenerife, a spokesman for ITV said.
Tarmey made his first appearance in the soap as an extra in 1977, after one of the show’s producers saw him working as a club singer.
He went on to become one of its longest serving characters – playing a loveable rogue with a fondness for pigeons.
Jack Duckworth and his wife Vera, played by actress Liz Dawn, were among the most popular characters on the show, and regarded my many of their peers as a British institution.
Paying tribute to her on-screen husband, Mrs Dawn said Tarmey was “a true gentleman.”
“Bill was part of my family. When you work with someone for so long, as we did, it becomes more than just work.
“Our families were close and I am devastated for Ali and his family. I am totally bereft. He will always be remembered by everyone he came into contact with because he was such a kind and generous man,” he said.
Nigel Pivaro, who played the Duckworths' layabout son Terry, said: ”I am devastated to learn of the passing of someone who became a huge part of both my professional and personal life, who I came to look on as a second father.
“He was a very wise and dignified man who taught me a great deal and whose counsel I came to value greatly.
The soap's longest-serving star, Bill Roache, who has played Ken Barlow since it started, also paid tribute to the “wonderful” actor.
”Over the years Coronation Street has produced characters who are really powerful and legendary – Jack Duckworth was one of those.
“He was the downtrodden loveable rogue who never got anything right but was loved by everyone. This was down to Bill Tarmey's incredible skills as an actor: He had amazing comic timing and was a genuinely warm and wonderful human being.”
Throughout his time on the show, Tarmey was dogged by ill-health. A heavy smoker, he suffered a heart attack at 35-years-old, and had a stroke a year later.
At age 45, he underwent surgery to bypass clogged arteries, and had a pacemaker fitted after suffering a second heart attack in 2002.
But although it played a factor, it was not Tarmey’s own ill-health that led to him leaving Coronation Street in 2010, but that of his son, who was battling a life threatening brain tumour.
Speaking earlier this year of his decision to leave the show, he said: “If this hadn't happened they would've had to drag me out of there screaming. It was a wonderful bloody job, especially for an old coffin-dodger”.
In his final scenes in the soap, viewers saw his character die peacefully in his armchair before he was seen, in a dream-like sequence, sharing a last dance with Vera.
Around 11 million people tuned in to watch, but Tarmey remained modest about his acting talent.
Writing in his autobiography, Jack Duckworth And Me, he said: “I'm just a pillock who comes into a studio to say some words that some other clever person has written.
”For years, I'd managed to get away with it, but I'd always been waiting for the bubble to burst.“
What they said...
Vicky Entwistle (Janice Battersby):
“He was just such a lovely man to have around. So warm and always full of fun. The character of Jack was such a jack the lad, there was that wonderful mischievous side to him. He was so well loved by everyone – just a beautiful kind man.”
Julie Goodyear (Bet Lynch):
“This news is so very sad, not just for me but for all his other friends and of course his wife, Ali, and all his family. This wonderful man will be sadly missed.”
Michael Le Vell (Kevin Webster):
“Bill met my dad briefly when I first joined Coronation Street. And when my dad passed away Bill became like a surrogate dad to me. He and Liz looked after me and got me through those early days and we’ve been friends ever since. My heart goes out to Ali and his family.”
Staff of Coronation Street:
“The cast, crew and production team at Coronation Street are devastated to hear of Bill’s death. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bill’s wife and soulmate Ali and their family at this very sad time.”