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Wales Online
Wales Online
Cathy Owen

The much-loved figures in Welsh life who died in 2022

The Welsh sporting and acting worlds were rocked in 2022 after the deaths of leading legends. There was a poignant empty seat in the Principality Stadium during Wales' autumn international games following the death of the voice of rugby Eddie Butler in September.

The former Wales captain and highly-respected broadcaster died suddenly in his sleep aged 65 while on a fundraising trek in Peru. His death prompted an outpouring of grief among not just his family, friends, and colleagues but the wider Welsh public – and beyond – who had taken in some of Welsh rugby's finest moments in the company of Butler on commentary.

Butler played 16 times for Wales between 1980 and 1984, captaining the side on six occasions. He rose to prominence in Ray Prosser's Pontypool side that took the Welsh club scene by storm throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He also played for Cambridge University whilst studying French and Spanish at Fitzwilliam College between 1976 and 1978 and toured with the Lions in 1983. The number eight retired from playing in 1985 and went on to become a teacher before launching a career in journalism that led him to the commentary booth where he cut his teeth alongside the great Sir Bill McLaren. He became the BBC's lead commentator after McLaren's retirement and formed entertaining partnerships with the likes of Jonathan Davies and Brian Moore.

Eddie Butler (BBC)
His seat at the Principality Stadium remained empty in a touching tribute to the former Wales captain and much-loved broadcaster (Mark Lewis/Huw Evans Agency)

A special tribute was also paid to another Welsh legend at the opening game against New Zealand in November. That was for one of the greatest Wales players of all time – rugby legend Phil Bennett.

The Llanelli, Wales, and Lions great sadly passed away at the age of 73 in June after a long battle with cancer. Naturally, given the impact Bennett had not only as one of the most recognisable faces of the golden era of Welsh rugby in the 1970s but in different roles such as commentator or Scarlets president, he remained a welcome presence in the game.

Phil Bennett was a legend of the game (© Huw Evans Agency)

Many icons of the sport shared their own memories of Bennett while thousands attended the former fly-half's memorial later that month at Parc y Scarlets in a fitting tribute to one of Wales' finest players. Read the story of a Welsh club rugby's greatest triumph here.

In December another Welsh legend, Ruth Madoc, died at the age of 79 after being rushed to hospital following an accident. The actress and singer, who was brought up in Swansea, was best known for playing Gladys Pugh in the 1980s holiday camp sitcom Hi-de-Hi!. Tributes were paid to the star, describing her as "one of a kind and a unique talent loved by many". See more here.

Ruth Madoc in her most famous role as Gladys Pugh (BBC)

At the start of the year the acting world also lost legendary variety entertainer Wyn Calvin who was known at ''The Welsh Prince of Laughter'. He was 96 when he died in January. Always a joy to interview and listen to his wife of 46 years, Carole Calvin, said he had been "joking and telling stories until the very end".

Wyn Calvin enjoyed a career that spanned decades (WalesOnline/ Rob Browne)

Wyn's colourful and illustrious career in showbiz spanned an astonishing 76 years right up until his death. He excelled as a comedian, television chat show host, actor, radio personality, pantomime dame, after-dinner speaker, lecturer, charity worker, newspaper columnist for the Western Mail, and a giant of variety theatre. Read the full tribute here.

Welsh writer and broadcaster Mavis Nicholson died on the same day as the Queen at the age of 91 after a much-celebrated television career that spanned 25 years. Dubbed the "greatest TV interviewer of all time" Mavis made her name as the host of programmes such as After Noon, Afternoon Plus, and Mavis on 4 between the 1970s and 1990s. Not only did she become the first female chat show host in the history of British television she also interviewed some of the world's biggest stars including David Bowie, Elizabeth Taylor, and Kenneth Williams. Born in Briton Ferry in 1930 her career saw her present more programmes for BBC and Channel 4 including discussion series Predicaments and Right or Wrong while she was also the resident agony aunt at The Oldie magazine.

Mavis Nicholson was described as the 'greatest interviewer ever' (Bafta Cymru)

Singer and bass player Burke Shelley, of influential Cardiff rockers Budgie, died aged 71 after a long illness at the start of 2022. The dad-of-four, whose music in the early 1970s influenced rock legends from Iron Maiden and Metallica to Van Halen, had been suffering from Stickler syndrome – a genetic disorder that can cause serious vision, hearing, and joint problems.

Burke Shelley (Richard Swingler)

In 2020 he revealed he'd been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm – a dangerous and abnormal swelling of the main artery that supplies blood to the body – but had turned down surgery in case it caused irreparable spinal damage and left him bed-bound or in a wheelchair. It was a similar heart condition that effectively ended his stage career in 2010 while on tour in Europe.

Former Welsh Assembly Member Mick Bates died after a battle with cancer. Mr Bates was elected as the Liberal Democrat member for the Montgomeryshire constituency in the inaugural Welsh Assembly elections in 1999 and continued to serve as its member until 2011. Before that he had worked as a teacher, a farmer, and as a Liberal Democrat county councillor.

Chris Stuart, described as one of the "true greats" of Welsh broadcasting, died aged 73 in July. He was one of the first hosts on BBC Radio Wales after coming to Wales for a journalism training programme at the Western Mail in Cardiff.

Chris Stuart (Richard Swingler)

In 1978 he joined the newly-created BBC Radio Wales. In that role he hosted breakfast news and entertainment programmes over the next nine years.


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