Anne Kirkbride, known to millions of Coronation Street fans as Deirdre Barlow, has died aged 60 following a short illness, her husband David Beckett has confirmed.
The actress had been due to return to the ITV soap following a three month sabbatical, although recent rumours had suggested she would not be coming back.
Kirkbride spent 42 years on Coronation Street, having made her first appearance as Deirdre in 1972, and was one of the four longest-serving actors on the show.
A statement from Coronation Street producers said: “It is with great sadness that David Beckett has confirmed tonight that his beloved wife and Coronation Street actress Anne Kirkbride has passed away peacefully in a Manchester hospital after a short illness.
“David and the programme’s cast and crew are heartbroken and deeply saddened at the loss of Anne who has been a Coronation Street icon for 42 years.”
William Roache, whose character Ken Barlow married, divorced and remarried Deirdre, 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.”
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’s director of television Peter Fincham called Kirkbride “a truly loyal servant to Coronation Street” and said she had “created a unique and unforgettable character in Deirdre Barlow”.
“She’ll be greatly missed on and off screen,” added Fincham. “Our sincerest condolences to Anne’s husband David and her family at this very sad time.”
Despite having been involved in many serious storylines – including affairs, divorces and the murder of her third husband Samir Rachid – Deirdre was known as one of the characters that consistently brought humour to he soap.
Coronation Street creator Tony Warren said Kirkbride herself was “very easy to love” and that “her talent over the years made a massive contribution to Coronation Street.”
In 1993 Kirkbride was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, but returned to work 12 months later after successful treatment.
She is survived by her husband, David, her brother John, and his family.