Anne Kirkbride, the actress who played Deirdre Barlow in Coronation Street, has died aged 60.
She passed away peacefully in a Manchester hospital following a short illness, her husband confirmed tonight.
Kirkbride first appeared in the long-running ITV soap in 1972, and played her much-loved character for 43 years. Deirdre Barlow was at the heart of some of the show's most dramatic story lines for decades.
In September, she announced she was taking a three month break from the show, and was expected to return to Coronation Street this month, the Mirror reported.
A statement on the ITV website said her husband David Beckett and the programme's cast and crew are "heartbroken and deeply saddened".
Anne Kirkbride: Life in pictures
Anne Kirkbride: Life in pictures
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Anne Kirkbride pictured on 1 December 1993
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Actress Anne Kirkbride, played Deirdre Barlow in Coronation Street
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Coronation Street actress Anne Kirkbride as she unveiled the new wax figure of her on screen character Deirdre Barlow at Madame Tussauds in Blackpool on 25 July 2011
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Anne Kirkbride with a portrait of a young Deirdre Barlow at The Richard Goodall Gallery, Manchester, on 2 December 2010
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Coronation Street actors William Roache, who played Ken Barlow with Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow, on 25 February 2010
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Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall (2L) meets actors Anne Kirkbride, who plays the role of Deirdre Barlow (C) and Ryan Thomas, who plays the role of Jason Grimshaw (R) during a tour to the Rovers Return Pub on the set of British television soap opera 'Coronation Street' on 4 February 2010 in Manchester
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From left - right front, Anne kirkbride, Doris Speed and Bill Roache, and left - right back, Ken Farrington and Alan Rothwell on the set of Coronation Street
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Coronation Street actors William Roache, left, who played Ken Barlow and Johnny Briggs, right, who played Mike Baldwin with Anne Kirkbride, centre, on 23 May 1983
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Jones as Blanche Hunt, left, with Anne Kirkbride as her daughter Deirdre, in a 1974 episode of 'Coronation Street'
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Anne Kirkbride on the set of 'Coronation Street' in 1973
Executive producer Kieran Roberts led tributes for the actress.
"There are no words to describe the sense of grief we feel at Anne's passing," he said.
"We know only too acutely how much Anne meant to the millions of people who watched her create the legendary character of Deirdre Barlow.
"She will be greatly missed by the Coronation Street team who share happy memories of working with her.
"We feel blessed and honoured to have known her. Our thoughts are with David and their family."
William Roache, who played Kirkbride's onscreen husband Ken Barlow, said: "I feel Anne’s loss so personally having worked closely with her for over 40 years.
"She was such a loving and vibrant person. You always knew she was there because her laugh was never far away," he added, Sky News reported.
"She was an impeccable performer with superb comedy timing and an immense gift for really heightened drama.
"We had some rows over the years as Ken and Deirdre and it was wonderful to play those scenes opposite her.
"Coronation Street has lost one of its iconic characters and Anne will be greatly missed," he added.
ITV director of television Peter Fincham said Kirkbride had "created a unique and unforgettable character" and said she had been "a truly loyal servant to Coronation Street since joining the programme in the early 1970s".
Coronation Street's creator Tony Warren said: "Anne was very easy to love. Her talent over the years made a massive contribution to Coronation Street."
Kirkbride is survived by her husband David, her brother John, and his family.
Additional reporting by PA