House finally hangs up his stethoscope

After eight years, Hugh Laurie calls time on the most popular television doctor in the world. Nick Clark reports.

After eight years of diagnosing some of the world's rarest diseases, Hugh Laurie is to hang up his stethoscope. The current season of House will be his last, the producers have revealed.

The role of the misanthropic genius doctor transformed Laurie's career. From playing loveable, dim-witted British comedy roles such as Bertie Wooster, he became a huge star in the US and the best-paid television drama actor in the country.

Yet, the production team behind the show announced yesterday that the 177th episode screened in America in April would be its last. David Shore, Katie Jacobs and Laurie, all executive producers on the show, said in a statement: "The decision to end the show now, or ever, is a painful one, as it risks putting asunder hundreds of close friendships that have developed over the last eight years."

They continued: "But now that time is drawing to a close. The producers have always imagined House as an enigmatic creature; he should never be the last one to leave the party. How much better to disappear before the music stops, while there is still some promise and mystique in the air."

The statement signed off with a mantra from House himself. "Everybody lies."

House made the most recent book of Guinness World Records, where it was named the world's most popular current television programme, watched by 81.8 million people in 66 countries.

The show was also feted by the critics and picked up a string of awards. Laurie himself received six Emmy Award nominations, two Golden Globe Award wins and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Fan tributes poured in yesterday. One said: "Goodbye House MD, you will be dearly missed" while another added: "Thank you, Hugh Laurie, for eight seasons of brilliantly bringing Dr Gregory House to life. We'll miss you".

Kevin Reilly, the president of entertainment at American broadcaster Fox, said he respected the decision with "much regret and a lump in our throats".

He added that the character had been "amazingly brought to life by Hugh Laurie". A spokeswoman for Sky, which broadcast the show in the UK said the group was "sorry to say goodbye to House, a much-loved, iconic show". House was first aired in 2004, pitched as a medical detective programme, with the lead based on Sherlock Holmes. Laurie created an audition tape while filming the movie Flight of the Phoenix which fooled one of the producers into thinking he was American. The Washington Post described House as the "most electrifying new main character to hit television in years".

At its height, the 52-year old reportedly earned £250,000 per episode and Laurie said he felt guilty "being paid more to become a fake version of my own father," who was a doctor. Viewing peaked in the show's third season at 20 million on average per episode in the US. The final season viewing figures are about 9 million.

One UK fan of the series said: "There wasn't much like it when I first started watching and Hugh Laurie is just brilliant. As much as I loved it I think the show has run its course. The storylines had begun to get a little bit ridiculous." It is unclear what Laurie is to do next. He recently voiced one of the characters in Aardman's Arthur Christmas and starred in The Oranges. He will also appear in Mr Pip, an adaptation of the Lloyd Jones novel.

Laurie made his name as a comic actor Britain in the 1980s with the Blackadder series and A Bit of Fry and Laurie with Stephen Fry. The pair would later play the leads in the television adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster. More recently he branched out, releasing a blues album called Let Them Talk, that featured guest appearances by Dr John and Sir Tom Jones among others. He also became the face of an advertising campaign for L'Oreal.

Late last year he told the Daily Record: "I think I will probably be as interested by either writing or producing or directing or some other aspect. I find the whole field of it fascinating," adding: "And I think I'm extremely lucky to have had the one shot that I have had at it and I wouldn't go looking for lightning to strike twice."