Fomer EastEnders actor Leslie Grantham, who played ‘Dirty’ Den Watts in the BBC soap, has died aged 71.
Grantham’s death this morning comes just days after he was reported to be in a critical condition in the UK having returned from Bulgaria, where he had been living since he divorced from his wife, Jane, of 31 years.
He shot to fame playing ‘Dirty’ Dennis Watts in EastEnders, originally from 1985 to 1989, returning briefly in 2003 for the character’s shock comeback.
According to The Sun, the screen star had been visited in hospital by close friends in the industry over the past week.
More than 30 million viewers tuned in to see Den Watts serve divorce papers to wife Angie (Anita Dobson) in the famous episode on Christmas Day 1986, with the words “Happy Christmas, Ange”.
In the soap, ‘Dirty’ Den was believed to have been shot dead by a hitman in 1989, but Grantham made a shock return to Albert Square some 14 years later.
And it was seen by 17 million viewers who watched his return to the BBC One soap.
Off-screen, London-born Grantham had an eventful personal life.
As a teenager, 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 returned to Leyhill Open Prison in Gloucestershire as a VIP guest to open an art exhibition.
He said the jail 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, which had also seen him criticise his co-stars, describing his actions as “a moment’s stupidity” of which he was “wholeheartedly ashamed”.
Grantham and actress Jane Laurie, the mother of his three sons, divorced in 2013 after being married for more than 30 years.
Having almost disappeared from the small screen, Grantham in his later years 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 told the Press Association.
“Unfortunately, some of my diversions have been quite catastrophic. But I’m safe in the knowledge that what I do now is good.”
A spokesperson for him and his family said:
‘We formally announce the loss of Leslie Grantham, who passed away at 10:20 am on the morning of Friday 15th June 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.’
After returning for his second stint 15 years ago, Grantham only stayed on Albert Square for 12 months, before it was revealed towards the end of 2004 that he was again leaving the show again – this time at the hand of his new wife, Chrissie, who hit him over the head with an iron doorstop.
More than 14 million viewers watched Den’s demise, as Grantham felt that EastEnders was not what it once was, which enforced his decision to leave for a second time.
‘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 told the Press Association.
‘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.’
He starred as the on-screen dad to Letitia Dean who famously played Sharon Watts between 1985 and 1995, later reprising her role between 2001 to 2006.