Comedian Eddie Large, best known for being part of double act Little and Large, has died with coronavirus.
The star, 78, was a well known face on TV in the 1970s and 80s and was famous for his partnership with Syd Little.
His family confirmed the news "with great sadness" on Facebook, saying he had been suffering with heart failure and contracted the virus in hospital.
Little said he was "devastated" by the news. "He had been ill for a while but when it happens, it hits you," he said.
"We were together 60 years," he told BBC Radio Lancashire. "It wasn't like having a partner. We were friends."
The comedian's family said they had been unable to visit him in hospital due to restrictions around the coronavirus, "but all of the family and close friends spoke to him every day".
"We will miss him terribly and we are so proud of everything he has achieved in his career with Syd and know that he was much loved by the millions that watched them every week."
Reacting to the news, TV hosts Ant and Dec said the entertainer, who they recently worked with, "will be missed".
"He just loved making people laugh," they wrote.
So sad to hear about the passing of Eddie Large. We had the pleasure of working with him and Sid a few years ago. He just loved making people laugh. He will be missed.— antanddec (@antanddec) April 2, 2020
Our thoughts are with his family at this time. X pic.twitter.com/cDpsn6j61N
Large, whose real name was Hugh McGinnis, was born in Glasgow but grew up in Manchester's Moss Side.
He formed double act Little and Large with Syd Little in 1960, after watching Little's set in a local pub, and joining him on stage to sing a Cliff Richard song.
They went on to win the talent show Opportunity Knocks and had a long-running comedy show on BBC One in the 1970s and 80s.
The sketch-based comedy show was as a fixture of Saturday evening TV, with Little mainly acting as the butt of Large's cheeky humour.
They largely stepped away from the limelight when the show ended in 1991, after doctors told Large his heart couldn't stand the rigours of touring their live show.
"That phone call to Syd was the most painful I've ever had to make," he told the Mirror in 2017.
"I was crying my eyes out because I knew I was putting him out of work. He had bills to pay.
"I felt horrible. We weren't just a double act. We were mates, right from the start."
Large had a heart transplant in 2003, and became an spokesman for the British Heart Foundation.
In later years, he lived in Portishead, near Bristol, with his wife Patsy Scott.
Little said he had remained in almost daily contact with his stage partner, and spoke to him on Wednesday night, shortly before he died.
"He was in pain, bless him, but he even asked me how are we up here [in Lancashire]," he said. "He was so thoughtful to everybody."
Reflecting on their career, he added: "We did everything there was to do in showbiz and we did it together. Happy times."
Fellow comics including Little Britain's Matt Lucas paid tribute on Twitter, writing: "Eddie Large (along with his supersonic friend Syd) was really lovely and kind and encouraging to me when I was a nipper on Shooting Stars. So sad to hear of his passing."
Actress Kate Robbins described him as a "great chap".
"Sorry to hear the comedian Eddie Large has died," she tweeted. "A real pro. Rest in peace Eddie".
'Gentle, funny man'
Manchester City Football Club also paid tribute to Large, who was a lifelong fan, saying everyone at the club was sad at the news.
"Our thoughts are with Eddie's friends and family at this difficult time."
Fellow City fan and comedian Jason Manford added: "So sorry to hear about Eddie Large passing away.
"Came to every comedy and musical show I did whenever I hit Bristol and was always around for a chat about comedy and Man City afterwards. Such a gentle, funny man. RIP Eddie."
'Rude, raucous and rollicking'
Call the Midwife actor Stephen McGann described Large as "a constant feature on telly in my life."
Another comic, Sir Lenny Henry recalled seeing him perform in Great Yarmouth in 1978 and how he had "never heard laughter like it".
Eddie Large died. Midnight Matinee Great Yarmouth 1978. They finished part one. I’d never heard laughter like it. Rude, raucous and rollicking.Dunno how they did it, but Eddies energy and electricity and impressions and props and improv were hugely impressive. R.I.P.— Lenny Henry (@LennyHenry) April 2, 2020
Tommy Cannon, of Cannon and Ball-fame, said he was "devastated" to hear of the death of his "good friend".
"Eddie Large has passed.. very heavy hearts at home today," he wrote. "Mine and Hazels hearts go out to Patsy and the family."
"Dear Eddie Large - thank you for the laughter and joy," added 80s TV comedy character Timmy Mallett.
Michael Barrymore described Large as "such a funny and talented man."
"I was his support act for many years and he was nothing but kind caring and supportive to the upstart at the bottom of the bill," posted Barrymore on Twitter.
Paul Chuckle, who is currently recovering from having contracted Covid-19 himself, said Large "was such a funny and lovely man".
RIP the very talented Eddie Large. Such a funny and lovely man. Love goes out to his family at this time ❤️— Paul Chuckle (@PaulChuckle2) April 2, 2020
A small history of Eddie Large
- Born in Glasgow as Edward Hugh McGinnis the comedian moved to Manchester at the age of eight.
- After leaving school Large became an electrician while also singing in clubs.
- He met singer and guitarist Cyril Meed (Syd Little) after heckling him in a club in 1960. They became firm friends and formed their comedy double act in 1963.
- After years playing in clubs and pubs, they won the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1971.
- They went on to perform impressions on the Who Do You Do series, before landing their own sketch programme The Little and Large Tellyshow on ITV in 1978.
- Their show was very much borne of the variety tradition of the day, with sketches, silly voices and costumes thrown in.
- Two years later, they transferred to the BBC and became one of the most recognisable partnerships on television, regularly attracting TV audiences of 15 million.
- After the show ended in 1991, they toured caravan parks and theatres across the country, before Large's heart problems put an end to their stage career.
- Large later worked as an after-dinner entertainer and also appeared in dramas such as The Brief and Blackpool.
- In 2003 he underwent a heart transplant and recovered fully.
- He later had a serious fall outside his home in Portishead and suffered pneumonia, pancreatic problems and a collapsed lung while in hospital - but again made a full recovery.
- The star had three children and was married twice.