David Hockney 'in shock' following death of friend and studio assistant Dominic Elliott

Police have launched an investigation after Mr Elliott, 23, fell ill at the artist's Bridlington home

David Hockney was said to be in a “state of shock” last night following the unexplained death of his close friend and studio assistant.

Dominic Elliot, 23, was taken ill in the early hours of Sunday morning at the artist’s home in Bridlington, East Yorkshire.

It is understood that the popular rugby player, who cut a distinctive figure in the seaside town with his ginger curly hair, was driven 20 miles to Scarborough General hospital after he began vomiting by the 75-year-old painter’s long-term partner.

Mr Elliot later died in hospital and a post mortem examination is due to be carried out tomorrow (Tuesday) although toxicology results could take several weeks. Among the lines of inquiry being followed by police are suggestions that Mr Elliot may have been drinking prior to his death or that he had an underlying health complaint.

Mr Hockney’s publicist Erica Bolton said Mr Elliot had been a “very important person” to the artist and had worked with him for more than two years.

“He is incredibly upset about it. Like everybody else he is in a state of shock,” she said.

The younger man, who was born and grew up in the town, had assisted the painter with lighting and other technical issues as he worked in the open air painting the wide open spaces and vast skies of the Yorkshire Wolds countryside.

Britain’s greatest living artist was inspired by the landscape during visits to see his mother from his home in the United States. It provided the subject for some of his most acclaimed later work including the monumental Bigger Trees Near Warter which the artist recently donated to the Tate. He “painted” Mr Elliot in 2008 as part of a series of portraits completed with an iPad app.

Friends said he saw his role as assistant to Mr Hockney as a “dream job” and had travelled extensively with the Pop Art pioneer who returned to the Yorkshire coast full time following the death of his mother. He had helped him prepare for last year’s blockbuster show at the Royal Academy, which was entitled A Bigger Picture, and the pair saw each other most days.

Last week friends said he had met Sir Paul McCartney and was a trusted member of the artist’s inner circle who had his own key to Mr Hockney’s detached house overlooking the North Sea where yesterday the blinds were drawn and a number of people came and went.

A police car was parked outside the house for five hours on Sunday and Mr Hockney is expected to be spoken to by police about the circumstances leading up to his assistant’s death. It is not known whether he was at home at the time his friend was taken ill.

The former York University business student had his own home nearby. He returned to Bridlington after his studies and was part of a prominent and respected family. His father, a local doctor died of a heart attack, suddenly in 2001 aged in his 40s.  His family were too upset to comment on his death.

A keen sportsmen, Mr Elliot played rugby and hockey. At Bridlington Rugby Club where he was described as a “cracking lad” and the “life and soul of the party”, chairman Gordon Morrice paid tribute to Mr Elliot.

"Dominic was a valued member of our club, a good player with great potential. With his size and ability he could easily have established himself as a first team regular. He was a popular lad and had so many friends at the club, he said."

It is believed he was driven to the hospital by Mr Hockney’s partner of 23-years John Fitzherbert, a former chef. The couple also have a home in London.

Locals said the Bradford-born artist who spent most of his career in California, was regularly seen walking up and down the promenade to buy cigarettes or dining at a local café with members of his team.

Mr Elliot’s close family friend Leanne Nelson, described him as a “special person” and said everyone that knew him was devastated by his death. “He was one of those people that would do anything for you. He was the most genuine person, so many people loved him and it has affected so many people,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Humberside Police said there had been no signs of violence:  "The circumstances of the man's death are not clear and officers are currently undertaking inquiries to establish events leading to his death,” she said.  

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable