Emmerdale actress Leah Bracknell dies aged 55

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Former Emmerdale actress Leah Bracknell has died at the age of 55, her manager has confirmed.

Bracknell, who played Zoe Tate in the soap for 16 years, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2016.

A statement on behalf of her family confirmed "with the deepest sadness" that Bracknell died last month.

"Leah had an energy and enthusiasm for life, a kind heart and much love to give to those around her," it read.

"Leah continued to embrace life and faced her illness with positivity."

Bracknell also had television roles in Judge John Deed, A Touch of Frost, The Royal Today and DCI Banks, as well as performing on stage and in pantomime.

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Image caption,
Bracknell played Zoe Tate in Emmerdale from 1989 until 2005

In February, the actress spoke of the debilitating effects terminal cancer had had on her, leaving her feeling like she was "trapped in a cage".

"If only you could find the door and step out to freedom and life as it was before," she wrote.

"If only you could wake from the nightmare: dawn breaks and you realise that it was all just a bad dream. And life is wonderfully normal again. Yes, if only."

Her family have asked for privacy, but said "many aspects of Leah's journey can be found on her blog."

ITV drama boss John Whiston paid tribute to a "much-loved" former colleague, noting how her gay on-screen character blazed a trail.

"Everyone on Emmerdale is very sad to hear of the death of Leah Bracknell," he said in a statement.

"Leah was a hugely popular member of the Emmerdale cast for over 16 years. During that time she featured in some of the show's most high profile and explosive plots and always delivered a pitch perfect performance."

He added: "Zoe Tate was one of soap's first lesbian characters and Leah made sure the character was both exciting and credible. Leah herself was a very generous and caring colleague, much loved by cast and crew alike."

Bafta-winning actress Sarah Lancashire described Bracknell as "brilliant," adding "thoughts go out to her family and friends."

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Emmerdale and Coronation Street actress Sally Ann Matthews called her "a beautiful soul", writing on Twitter the "world has lost a little sparkle".

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Bracknell left the series in 2005 in an episode voted the best exit at the British Soap Awards the following year.

The multi-talented mother-of-two was also known for her work teaching at the British School of Yoga and for creating her own line of jewellery.

Her cancer diagnosis came to light when her partner launched a Go Fund Me page to raise money for her to undergo treatment overseas.

More than 2,500 fans joined together to raise £50,000 to help pay for her treatment in Germany.

She thanked everyone involved, adding: "I really did not expect or feel deserving of such interest and kindness."

Positive outlook

Speaking on ITV's Loose Women in February , she said she had a positive outlook on life and was not fearful despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

However, in August she revealed her cancer treatment had stopped working.

She appeared on ITV again in December on Lorraine Kelly's show, where she revealed how much she hated people taking pity on her due to her condition.

"I think I just decided, it's still my life, but other people were writing me off quicker and even people close to me, they'd come and - I don't mean to be unkind - but people were embarrassed, or didn't know what to say.

"They come in and they're feeling very sorry and very pitiful, and actually it's the worst - the one thing that nobody wants is pity.

"It's obviously part of one's life, whether it's cancer or another disease or chronic condition, but the point is, it's life. It's living. I'm alive until the point I am not. And that to me is the key, not to surrender to something else."

In her final blog post Bracknell wrote about going from being a cancer "victim" to a "rebel", in a poem entitled A Cancer Rebel's Manifesto for Life.

"For I am a CANCER REBEL with a fierce heart, an independent mind, a warrior spirit, and an ocean of desire to keep on keeping on and making a difference and making a noise as long as there is sweet breath in my body.

"To LIFE. Long and sweet may it be for us all."

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