Bill Treacher, who played Arthur Fowler in EastEnders, has died aged 92, prompting tributes from his co-stars, who described him as "the life and soul of the set".
The veteran actor was one of the BBC soap’s original cast members and appeared from 1985 until 1996.
He died late on Saturday night after suffering declining health for some time.
A statement from his family said: “The family of the actor Bill Treacher are sad to announce that Bill died late Saturday night, 5 November 2022.
“He was 92 years old and his health had been declining for some time. He was much loved by his wife, Kate, his son, Jamie and his daughter, Sophie.
“Bill was a brilliant actor and a wonderful husband and father, plus a very fine human being. He will be hugely missed.
“The family respectfully request privacy at this time.”
Treacher was married to Australian actress Katherine Kessey, with whom he shared two children, and they were longstanding residents of Suffolk.
In 2015, he said he was suffering from ataxia, a disorder that can affect co-ordination, balance and speech.
Treacher appeared in EastEnders until 1996, when his troubled character was in prison for a crime he did not commit.
After receiving a blow to his head during a violent fracas, he was released but later suffered a brain haemorrhage at his beloved allotment. He died in hospital, leaving the Fowler family heartbroken.
After his character was killed off, Treacher had roles in The Bill and Casualty, and films such as The Musketeer (2001), Tale Of The Mummy (1998), and George And The Dragon (2004).
A spokeswoman for EastEnders said: “It is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of Bill Treacher.
“As one of our original cast members, Bill created a much-loved character in Arthur Fowler and, alongside Wendy Richard, they created an iconic family in the Fowlers who still remain at the heart of the show.
“Bill left EastEnders in 1996, so it is a true testament to both he and the character that he created in Arthur that he is still thought of so fondly.
“Bill will always be remembered for his charm, sense of humour – with a smile that lit up the room – and more importantly as a family man who was devoted to his wife and children.
“Bill will forever be held in great affection by everyone at EastEnders and all those that loved watching him. Rest in peace Bill and thank you for the memories.”
Executive producer Chris Clenshaw said: “Like so many, I grew up watching EastEnders with the beloved Arthur Fowler on his allotment, one of Walford’s originals who can still be described as a true heart of the Square.
“To this day, Arthur Fowler is still so fondly remembered by the audience and that is due to the character that Bill created and the reason why the Fowler name is still very much alive in Albert Square, as are the great memories of those that worked with Bill."
Gillian Taylforth, who played Kathy Beale in EastEnders, said: “I have so many happy memories of Bill, in fact we were only sharing stories of him at work the other day, about how he always had a sparkle in his eyes, usually before he mischievously set us off laughing during scenes.
“Bill was a wonderful, wonderful man who will be truly missed and I am sending all our love to his wife Kate and his family.”
Letitia Dean, another original cast member who played Sharon Watts, said: “Bill really was the life and soul of the set, he was an absolute joy to be around and always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.
“As an actor, Bill was meticulous and he went to great lengths to portray Arthur, from the smallest scenes to the heartbreaking stories."
Todd Carty, who played the Fowlers’ eldest son Mark, said: “I’m so sorry to hear about Bill passing, I absolutely loved working with him. He was not only an amazing actor but a kind and sincere man.
the real-life Eastender was always more focussed on his craft than his celebrity.
He once said: “People just stare at you and come up to you. An old git like me being mobbed. It’s nonsense, isn’t it?”
He recalled a visit to Portmeirion, the tourist village in North Wales, with his wife Kate and her mum, saying: “All the shopkeepers came out along the high street. The word had got round. Then some coaches unloaded and all these women started screaming.
“I looked around, then I realised they were coming for me. My wife and mother-in-law were in the car absolutely wetting themselves. I was mouthing to them, ‘Help me, help me’.”
Bill was so content with his career that when EastEnders came knocking, he wasn’t initially sure that he wanted the role.
It had been written with him in mind by creator Julia Smith, and Arthur was the first character cast.
But Bill feared it would drag him away from his family for too long, and the commute would be unbearable.
He once said: “I asked how long it would be on for and she said 52 weeks. I said, ‘I can’t do that, I’ll never see my family’.
"I went away and thought about it and after three days I thought, ‘Don’t be such a bloody fool – of course I have got to do it’.” He was right.
Starting in February 1985, the job was demanding from the beginning. With 12-hour days on top of the travelling, he would be up at 4am learning scripts.
In the years that followed, Arthur went to prison for stealing Christmas Club money to pay for Michelle’s wedding, suffered a mental breakdown, struggled with his son’s HIV diagnosis and his daughter’s pregnancy by Den.
Bill once said: “It was very exciting – that gave you the energy to keep going.”
But after 11 years, Arthur was finally killed off by a brain haemorrhage at his beloved allotment.
Bill had found the previous few years a slog and had begged to be written out, as his own health was suffering badly.
Stress caused migraines which blurred his vision. There were times he could not even see Wendy in scenes.
He also developed diverticulitis, a stomach condition that causes pain and nausea. He told BBC chief Alan Yentob: “If I don’t leave now I’ll be carted off to hospital.”
After leaving in 1996, he said: “By the time I finished even the sound of the theme music was making me feel ill. I felt depressed. I was wrung out.”
Of EastEnders, he said: “We had fun and I made some money but eventually it became a bit of a bore.”