Emmerdale star Steve Halliwell, who played Zak Dingle on the long-running soap for nearly three decades, has died aged 77.
The actor made his first appearance as the Dingle family patriarch in October 1994 and became synonymous with the show.
His family said in a statement he “was making us laugh to the end” and died “peacefully with his loved ones around him”.
Colleagues also paid tribute hailing him “a much-loved friend”.
ITV said: “It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that Emmerdale can confirm that Steve Halliwell, our beloved Zak Dingle, has peacefully passed away.
“All our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones through this very difficult time, and we’d request that their privacy is respected as they grieve for his loss.
“Steve will forever be synonymous with Emmerdale.
“The proud defender and head of the Dingle family.
“Heart and humour in all he did, it has been and always will be impossible not to smile when you think of him.”
Halliwell’s family said: “He went to sleep, peacefully with his loved ones around him.
“He was making us laugh to the end, the most amazing father and grandfather you could ever wish for, family was everything to him.
“We would like to thank the wonderful staff at St James Hospital and the Wheatfield Hospice for their love and kindness in his final days. He didn’t want sadness, just to rejoice in a life well-lived.”
Halliwell’s role as Zak Dingle was not initially intended to be permanent but he became a central character on the serial drama after winning over viewers and producers.
Known for his flat cap, wellies and wax jacket, the pig farmer featured in a number of dramatic storylines, including divorcing his first wife Nellie, played by Sandra Gough, and later marrying Lisa, portrayed by Jane Cox.
There was further trouble in love when he had affair and married Joanie Wright, played by Denise Black, before later reuniting with Lisa.
The actor said the turbulent storylines were not too far from his own personal life, having had issues with alcohol and his mental health.
He also described himself as a “functioning alcoholic” as he could work and live his life but admitted he was “too reliant on drink”.
He documented his experiences in his autobiography If the Cap Fits: My Rocky Road to Emmerdale.
John Whiston, managing director of continuing drama and head of ITV in the north, said Halliwell was “as wonderful off-screen as on”.
He said: “To millions of Emmerdale viewers he was the brawny but crafty Dingle patriarch who led the clan with a strong fist and a warm heart.
“To everyone who worked on Emmerdale he was a much-loved friend and colleague, the undoubted father of the show, but also its fun mischievous uncle. We will miss him enormously.”
Written by: Newsroom