The 79 year-old pundit was best known as the long-term presenter of Channel 4’s racing coverage, where he was familiar to viewers for his flamboyant style, signature deerstalker hat, and sideburns.
McCririck, who also made an appearance on reality shows in his later years, died at a London hospital on Friday.
His wife Jenny told The Sun he did not want his fans to know about the severity of his condition after doctors discovered a tumour in January 2018.
“The cancer was small and you would normally have an op to remove it, but because he was so ill he couldn’t do it,” she said. “They said they would have killed him if they had done an operation.
“The cancer spread and whenever he had immunotherapy it left him weaker and weaker and then you get an infection. That’s how he died.”
She also paid tribute to the doctors who cared for her husband, saying “they did all they could”.
McCririck’s interest in racing began as a pupil at Harrow, and he initially worked for an illegal street bookmaker as a “tic-tac man”, communicating horses’ odds at courses.
He went on to work for Sporting Life, where he won two British Press Awards before being sacked.
He first appeared on ITV in 1981 covering Shergar’s record win in the Epsom Derby.
It was on Channel 4 – which took over coverage of racing in 1984 – that he became a household name. His family described him as “the face of British horse racing”.
McCririck continued to front Channel 4’s racing programming until 2013, when he left and launched an age discrimination case against the station.
An employment tribunal unanimously rejected his claims and concluded his “pantomime persona” and “self-described bigoted and male chauvinist views were clearly unpalatable” to Channel 4 Racing.
By then McCririck had won new audiences through appearances on reality TV programmes and quiz shows such as Celebrity Big Brother, The Weakest Link, and Celebrity Wife Swap.
His appearance on Big Brother’s Bit On The Side in October last year shocked viewers, with some pointing out he looked “gaunt” and “poorly” compared with his time as a contestant.
He explained the dramatic change in appearance was down to intentional weight loss and a severe bout of flu.
McCririck is to be cremated and have his ashes scattered at the site of the furlong post at the former Alexandra Park racecourse in London, his wife said.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies