CORONATION Street star Bill Tarmey, who played Jack Duckworth for many years, died this morning.
The 71-year-old left the soap in 2010 after more than 30 years playing the pigeon-fancying, loveable rogue alongside Liz Dawn, who played his wife Vera.
A life-long heavy smoker, he suffered a minor heart attack following a bypass operation in 2002.
A spokeswoman for Coronation Street announced his death.
It is believed he died while on a family holiday in Tenerife.
Antony Cotton, who plays Sean Tully in the show, paid tribute on Twitter saying: “Goodnight Bill Tarmey. You were the best. We’ll miss you so much x”
A statement from the show said: “The cast, crew and production team at Coronation Street are devastated to hear of Bill’s death. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bill’s wife and soulmate Ali and their family at this very sad time.”
His family asked “for privacy as they grieve for a wonderful husband, father and brother”.
Catherine Tyldesley, who plays Eva in show, said: “So sad to hear that Bill Tarmey has died. #legend #RIPBILL. My deepest sympathies to all who knew him best xxx”.
Tarmey, a native Mancunian, started out working as a builder and began his showbiz career singing in working men’s clubs.
He joined Coronation Street as an extra in 1977 but show bosses spotted his potential and two years later he landed the role that made him famous.
He was dogged by ill-health and suffered a heart attack at the age of 35, followed by a stroke a year later.
A heavy smoker, he underwent a quadruple heart bypass 15 years ago and another bypass operation in June 2002.
Jack P Shepherd, who plays David Platt, tweeted: “Just heard the news about Bills death tragic news for everyone #RIPBILL”.
Tarmey’s final scenes in the soap two years ago saw his character die peacefully in his armchair before he was seen sharing a last dance with Vera.
Around 11 million people tuned in to watch his final scenes, but Tarmey remained modest about his acting talent.
Writing in his autobiography, Jack Duckworth And Me, he said: “I’m just a pillock who comes into a studio to say some words that some other clever person has written.
“For years, I’d managed to get away with it, but I’d always been waiting for the bubble to burst.”
Tarmey, who released a string of albums, had two top 40 hits, with One Voice which reached number 16 in 1993, and his version of Wind Beneath My Wings which went to number 40 a year later.
Nigel Pivaro, who played the Duckworths’ layabout son Terry, said: “I am devastated to learn of the passing of someone who became a huge part of both my professional and personal life, who I came to look on as a second father.
“He was a very wise and dignified man who taught me a great deal and whose counsel I came to value greatly.
“He was a lovely man who cared deeply for his family and friends. We are all rightly bereft at the loss we will feel knowing that the world will be a little poorer without Bill to lighten it up with his warm humour.”
Michael Le Vell, who has played mechanic Kevin Webster in the show for years, said: “Bill met my dad briefly when I first joined Coronation Street. And when my dad passed away Bill became like a surrogate dad to me. He and Liz looked after me and got me through those early days and we’ve been friends ever since. My heart goes out to Ali and his family. We knew Bill was poorly, but this is still a very great shock. I am going to miss him very much.”
Julie Goodyear, who played Bet Lynch, said: “This news is so very sad, not just for me but for all his other friends and of course his wife Ali, and all his family.
“This wonderful man will be sadly missed.”