Former EastEnders star Leslie Grantham dies aged 71

The actor best known as Dirty Den passed away on Friday

Leslie Grantham

Leslie Grantham, the actor who shot to fame in the 1980s playing EastEnders villain ‘Dirty’ Den Watts, has died at the age of 71.

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In a statement, Grantham’s spokesperson said: “We formally announce the loss of Leslie Grantham, who passed away at 10:20 am on the morning of Friday 15th June 2018. His ex-wife and sons have asked for their privacy to be respected at this difficult time, and for there to be no approaches to them for information or comment.

“They will not be making any statements to the media. They also ask that no photographs be taken of them in their grief. There will be a private funeral which will be attended by close family and friends only.”

Grantham had been under medical supervision after returning to the UK from his home in Bulgaria.

The Camberwell-born actor – along with co-star Anita Dobson – became the breakout stars of the BBC1 soap following its launch in 1985, with a 1986 Christmas Day episode in which Den served wife Angie with divorce papers watched by a consolidated audience of over 30 million.

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Success in the role, however, baffled the star, who commented to the Guardian in 2003: “I never wanted to do a soap. When I first signed to EastEnders, I was only supposed to do ten episodes; I ended up doing four years.

“I’m still mystified by the whole thing. I never watch it. Some of the storylines are half-baked, some are boring, some go on too long. But in the end, the audience decides who they like. I’ve never understood why they like me, and I still don’t.”

After leaving the soap in 1989 at the height of his fame, Grantham went on to star in BBC1’s The Paradise Club, ITV’s 99-1 and Channel 5 adventure game show Fort Boyard. But a much-publicised return to EastEnders in 2003 that saw Den miraculously resurrected 14 years after he was presumed dead failed to recapture the magic of Grantham’s original stint. Two years later, Den was killed off, this time for good.

Outside of soapland, Grantham’s life was not without its share of controversy. In 1967, he was convicted of murder following the death of a taxi driver in West Germany and served a ten-year sentence in a number of British prisons.

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And his second period on EastEnders was blighted by a media scandal after photos emerged of him apparently exposing himself in his dressing room. In his 2006 autobiography, Grantham admitted that he had tried to take his own life in the wake of the furore:

“I tried to lie my way out of the situation instead of facing up to it like a man,” he wrote. “Things got so bad I tried to kill myself”.

In 2016, he embarked on a fresh career when his debut children’s fantasy novel – Jack Bates and the Wizard’s Spell – was published. While promoting the book, Grantham appeared more sanguine about his experiences:

“Life isn’t a straight line. It’s like travelling the motorway. Every now and then, you have to take a diversion. Unfortunately, some of my diversions have been quite catastrophic. But I’m safe in the knowledge that what I do now is good,” he said. “Of course I have regrets, but you can’t go round wearing a hair shirt all your life, otherwise you’ll never get out of bed in the morning.”

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