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‘Dirty Den’ actor dies at 71 after eventful life

Close: Grantham with on-screen EastEnders daughter Letitia Dean PICTURES: PA

ACTOR Leslie Grantham, who played ‘Dirty Den’ Watts in EastEnders, has died aged 71.

A statement from his representative said: ‘We formally announce the loss of Leslie Grantham, who passed away at 10.20am on the morning of Friday, June 15, 2018.

‘His ex-wife and sons have asked for their privacy to be respected at this difficult time, and for there to be no approaches to them for information or comment.

‘They will not be making any statements to the media. They also ask that no photographs be taken of them in their grief.

‘There will be a private funeral, which will be attended by close family and friends only.’

Grantham’s death comes days after he was reported to be in a critical condition in the UK having returned from Bulgaria, where he had been living.

Kray-ving attention: Grantham in February while working on new Krays film Dead Man Walking PICTURE: REX

According to The Sun, the screen star had been visited in hospital by close friends in the industry — and many of them paid tribute to Grantham on hearing the news.

His screen wife Tracy Ann Oberman — aka Chrissie Watts — described him as ‘a very very good actor’ who had created an ‘iconic character’, while on-screen daughter Letitia Dean — aka Sharon Watts — said she had ‘special memories’ of working with him.

EastEnders’ executive consultant John Yorke paid tribute to Grantham on behalf of the BBC soap, saying: ‘Everyone at EastEnders is deeply saddened to hear that Leslie has passed away.

‘We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and friends at this extremely difficult time.’

TV family: Grantham, second right, with EastEnders cast members Bill Tracher, Susan Tully, Julia Smith and Wendy Richard

TV presenter Melinda Messenger shared a picture of herself with Grantham from their time working together on a game show

‘So sad to hear about the passing of Lesley Grantham, we worked together for 5 years on Fort Boyard, sending much love to his family & friends xxxxx,’ she wrote.

Blue singer Antony Costa, who starred alongside Grantham in Dunstable’s Cinderella pantomime in 2015, wrote that he was ‘absolutely gutted’ by the news.

Citizen Khan star Adil Ray shared a Twitter exchange they once had, posting a screengrab that showed Grantham advising him to ‘always eat a hearty breakfast’ because ‘it sets you up for the day’.

He wrote: ‘What a life Leslie Grantham led. Brilliant character in EE. He was proof of how you can turn your life around.

‘He was kind enough to give me some nutrition advice last summer too! Rest in peace. Thoughts with Leslie’s family and friends.’

Grantham shot to fame playing Watts in EastEnders, originally from 1985 to 1989.

A 1986 Christmas Day episode drew an audience of more than 30million viewers, who watched as Watts handed over divorce papers to on-screen wife Angie, with the words: ‘Happy Christmas, Ange.’

His character was apparently killed off in 1989 but made a shock return to Albert Square in 2003, watched by some 17m viewers.

Iconic character: Grantham as Dennis Watts with his on-screen wife Angie, played by Anita Dobson

Off screen, London-born Grantham had an eventful personal life.

At the age of 19, in 1967, he was convicted of murdering a German taxi driver while serving as a soldier — a charge he always denied.

He served an 11-year sentence and later said that jail had fostered his interest in amateur dramatics.

In 2004, Grantham was exposed after taking part in webcam sex sessions from his EastEnders dressing room at Elstree Studios.

He issued an apology for the scandal, describing his actions as ‘a moment’s stupidity’ of which he was ‘wholeheartedly ashamed’.

Dirty Den was killed off for the second and final time — by his second wife Chrissie (Tracy-Ann Oberman) — in 2005, with more than 14m viewers watching Den’s demise.

Grantham felt that EastEnders was not what it once was.

‘With Den and Angie, one minute he’d make you laugh, the next he’d cut your legs off. There was humour. Everyone thought Den was a lovable rogue. He wasn’t evil, he was just Jack the lad,’ he said.

‘When he came back a second time, he suddenly became this Machiavellian character. I’m not saying it was better when I was in it, but when you’re doing four episodes a week, you can’t keep up that level of consistency.’

Grantham and actress Jane Laurie, the mother of his three sons, divorced in 2013 after being married for more than 30 years.

In his later years, he focused on touring theatre work and panto.

In 2016, he published his debut children’s fantasy novel Jack Bates And The Wizard’s Spell.

He was offered reality shows but turned down what he called ‘humiliation TV’.

And Grantham, reported to be living in Bulgaria before he died at the age of 71, was philosophical about his life.

‘Life isn’t a straight line. It’s like travelling the motorway. Every now and then, you have to take a diversion,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately, some of my diversions have been quite catastrophic. But I’m safe in the knowledge that what I do now is good.’