Bobby Ball, one half of the comedy double act Cannon and Ball, has died at the age of 76, his manager has confirmed.
His death comes after the actor and comedian tested positive for Covid-19.
Ball was one half of the comedy duo alongside his long-time friend and colleague Tommy Cannon.
He also starred in several sitcoms including Not Going Out, Last of the Summer Wine, Benidorm and Heartbeat.
Leading the tributes, Cannon said: “Rock on, my good friend, I can’t believe this, I’m devastated.”
His wife Yvonne added: “I will always miss him, he was so joyful, full of fun and mischievous.”
Ball’s manager Phil Dale announced “with great personal sadness” that the comedy actor died at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on Wednesday evening.
He said Ball was admitted for tests due to breathing problems.
“At first it was thought to be a chest infection but a test proved positive for Covid-19,” he said in a statement.
“His wife Yvonne said the hospital and staff could not have been more wonderful, as they were outstanding in their care of duty and they did everything possible for him and she cannot praise them enough.
“She said that the family and Tommy would like to express their sincere thanks to the many, many people who have been fans of Bobby and they know that they will all share in part the great loss and total sadness that Yvonne, the family and Tommy all feel.”
He added that Ball’s wife stressed their need for privacy at this time “has to be a priority” and no further announcements or statements will be made.
Cannon and Ball – whose real names are Thomas Derbyshire and Robert Harper – started out as comics on the cabaret circuit in the north of England.
Ball was famous for twanging his braces on stage, while saying: “Rock on, Tommy.”
I’m A Celebrity appearance
The pair later landed their own primetime TV show, which lasted 11 series.
The Cannon and Ball Show, which was broadcast on Saturday nights, was one of the most popular series of its time, with consistently high viewing figures.
In 1982, the duo made a police comedy film entitled The Boys In Blue.
Cannon and Ball appeared together on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2005, and was the sixth person to be voted out.
In his later years, Ball acted in several sitcoms, including Mount Pleasant and The Cockfields.
Comedian Jason Manford was among those paying tribute on social media, describing Ball as “such a hilarious man”.
Les Dennis described him as “a true entertainer with real funny bones”, while comedian Ed Gamble said he was “absolutely pure funny” and “a massive influence”.
Actor and impressionist Kate Robbins said: “God bless your beautiful soul Bobby. You were so funny and lovely.”