Emmerdale stars hail Steve Halliwell a ‘soap icon’ after his death aged 77

Emmerdale stars have remembered Steve Halliwell, who played Zak Dingle on the ITV drama for nearly three decades, as a “soap icon” following his death aged 77.

After making his first appearance on the long-running Yorkshire soap opera in October 1994, Halliwell became a beloved fixture as the Dingle family patriarch.

The actor died “peacefully with his loved ones around him”, his family said in a statement issued by the broadcaster on Friday.

Following the news, Emmerdale actors including James Hooton, who has played Halliwell’s on-screen son Sam Dingle since 1995, paid tribute.

Hooton tweeted: “A soap icon and a great friend has passed away today!

“Steve Halliwell was the first person I met when I walked through the door into the Emmerdale studios and we remained friends until the end!

“A truly loved character and a strong proud man, RIP Steve you will be sadly missed.”

While Lisa Riley, who played Halliwell’s on-screen niece Mandy Dingle, said the actor was “finally at peace”.

“Thank you for years of laughter, you were still laughing right up to the end. Adored, loved, respected by us all, a legend in my eyes that’s for sure – we have stories and memories to last for many more years to come,” she said.

Danny Miller, who portrays Aaron Livesy on the ITV soap opera, praised his late co-star as the “king of the ‘double takes’” in a tribute posted to Instagram.

Alongside a photo of them acting together on set, he wrote: “From day one he took me under his wing and helped guide me on and off set.

“He never failed to effortlessly make me and everyone else corpse with a simple look or grunt or “mmmm EH?!”

“The King of the ‘double takes’ and the King of The Dingles. We’ll miss you mate. On and off set. Rest well Steve and leave one in the pump for me.”

Actor Kelvin Fletcher, who played Andy Sugden on the soap, said: “What a man and what a legacy. So many incredible memories. We had some fun. God Bless.”

Steve Halliwell death
Halliwell’s role as Zak Dingle was not initially intended to be permanent but he became an integral character (Ian West/PA)

A statement by ITV shared on Friday said: “It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that Emmerdale can confirm that Steve Halliwell, our beloved Zak Dingle, has peacefully passed away.

“All our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones through this very difficult time, and we’d request that their privacy is respected as they grieve for his loss.

“Steve will forever be synonymous with Emmerdale. The proud defender and head of the Dingle family. Heart and humour in all he did, it has been and always will be impossible not to smile when you think of him.”

Halliwell’s family praised him as the “most amazing father and grandfather you could ever wish for” as they confirmed the news.

“He went to sleep, peacefully with his loved ones around him,” they said in a statement.

“He was making us laugh to the end, the most amazing father and grandfather you could ever wish for, family was everything to him.

“We would like to thank the wonderful staff at St James Hospital and the Wheatfield Hospice for their love and kindness in his final days. He didn’t want sadness, just to rejoice in a life well-lived.”

John Whiston, managing director of continuing drama and head of ITV in the north, praised Halliwell for being “as wonderful off-screen as on” as he paid tribute.

He added: “To millions of Emmerdale viewers he was the brawny but crafty Dingle patriarch who led the clan with a strong fist and a warm heart.

“To everyone who worked on Emmerdale he was a much-loved friend and colleague, the undoubted father of the show, but also its fun mischievous uncle. We will miss him enormously.”

Steve Halliwell death
Steve Halliwell attending the British Soap Awards 2017 (Matt Crossick/PA)

Halliwell’s role as Zak Dingle was not initially intended to be permanent but he became an integral character on the long-running serial drama after winning over viewers and producers.

Known for his flat cap, wellies and wax jacket attire, the pig farmer featured in a number of dramatic storylines, including divorcing his first wife Nellie, played by Sandra Gough, and later marrying Lisa, portrayed by Jane Cox.

There was further trouble in paradise when he had affair and married Joanie Wright, played by Denise Black, before later reuniting with Lisa.

The actor said the turbulent storylines were not too far from his own personal life, having had issues with alcohol and his mental health.

He told the Mirror in 2014: “I was born to play Zak Dingle – the cap really does fit. Most of the storylines I’ve lived in real life. I’ve been broke, evicted, in trouble with the law.

“Then there’s depression, drinking and having to fight your way out of situations. I’ve lived all those things and more.

“I can’t blame anyone else. I pressed the self-destruct button.”

The actor also said he had never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had considered if that might be at play.

He also described himself as a “functioning alcoholic” as he could work and live his life but admitted he was “too reliant on drink”.

He documented his experiences in his autobiography If the Cap Fits: My Rocky Road To Emmerdale.