Coronation Street star Anne Kirkbride, who played the character Deirdre Barlow in the long-running television soap, has died aged 60 after a short illness.
ITV said the actress, who was in the show for 42 years, passed away peacefully in a Manchester hospital.
Her husband David Beckett and the programme’s cast and crew were said to be “heartbroken and deeply saddened”.
Co-star William Roache, who played her husband Ken Barlow for many years, said she would be “greatly missed”.
Roache 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.
“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.”
In the 1980s one of the soap’s most famous storylines hinged on whether she would stay with Ken Barlow. She was married four times in the programme, twice to Ken.
The popularity of her character was demonstrated when a real-life campaign was launched to free Deirdre when a storyline saw the character jailed in 1998 after being duped into a mortgage fraud by fiance Jon Lindsay. The campaign was even backed by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Kirkbride started in Coronation Street in 1972 as Deirdre Hunt and over the years became known for her character’s large glasses and husky voice.
Deirdre Barlow had been off screen after Kirkbride was give a three-month break by the show’s producers.
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.”
Coronation Street executive producer Kieran Roberts said: “There are no words to describe the sense of grief we feel at Anne’s passing. 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.”
ITV director of television Peter Fincham said: “Anne has been a truly loyal servant to Coronation Street since joining the programme in the early 1970s.
“She created a unique and unforgettable character in Deirdre Barlow and she’ll be greatly missed on and off screen.
“Our sincerest condolences to Anne’s husband David and her family at this very sad time.”
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