Dame Barbara Windsor – best known for her roles as Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders and in the Carry On films – has died aged 83.
She died peacefully at 8.35pm on Thursday at a London care home with her husband Scott Mitchell by her side, after suffering from dementia.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Dame Barbara had “campaigned for the lonely and the vulnerable – and cheered the world up with her own British brand of harmless sauciness and innocent scandal”.
In a moving tribute, Mr Mitchell called her his “precious Bar” and said: “I’ve lost my wife, my best friend and soulmate and my heart or life will never feel the same without you.”
He said she had died from Alzheimer’s and he had spent the last seven days by her side.
“It was not the ending that Barbara or anyone else living with this very cruel disease deserve,” he said.
“I will always be immensely proud of Barbara’s courage, dignity and generosity dealing with her own illness and still trying to help others by raising awareness for as long as she could.”
Mr Mitchell said her final weeks were “typical of how she lived her life”, being “full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end”.
The beloved soap and film star was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014, going public with the news four years later.
Dame Barbara’s on-screen children were among the first to pay tribute.
Steve McFadden, who plays Phil Mitchell in EastEnders, is said to be “devastated” by her death, according to a representative.
Danniella Westbrook, who played her on-screen daughter Sam Mitchell, tweeted: “MY HEART IS BROKEN. Bar you will always be in my heart forever. Good bye , I LOVE YOU XXX RIP Barbara WINDSOR.”
Today we lost a legend a national treasure and a woman who I looked up too for most off my life. A generous warm funny humble and beautiful lady & someone who gave us all much joy watching her act. A woman who I was lucky enough to work with for many years as my mum & a loyal pic.twitter.com/yyPIqbwu3E
— Danniella Westbrook (@westbrookdanni) December 11, 2020
Patsy Palmer, known for playing Bianca Jackson in the soap, shared photos of the pair together on her Instagram.
“I’m sitting here thinking of the hundreds of memories we shared,” she said. “Too many to comprehend. We were like family for a long time – ups, downs, ins and outs but you will never meet a more professional actress than Babs.”
She added: “I can hear that laugh now as I sit and think about her. I hope it’ll ring in my ears forever.”
Presenter Jonathan Ross wrote on Twitter: “Barbara Windsor in real life was everything you might have hoped for. So warm, so funny, so kind. Goodnight sweetheart x.”
Comedian and actor Matt Lucas said: “You don’t become a Dame by accident. Everyone knew Barbara Windsor and everyone loved her.”
Lucas’s Little Britain co-star, David Walliams, said: “Working with you, spending time with you, and being your friend was one of the greatest thrills of my life. You were the unofficial Queen of England, an icon for over half a century and treasured by the nation.”
Known as The Queen Vic’s feisty landlord, Windsor’s character Peggy became an EastEnders stalwart and was famous for yelling “get outta my pub!” at rogue drinkers.
She made her debut on the soap in 1994 and quit in 2009, saying she wanted to spend more time with her husband.
Although her stint on the soap was the defining role of her career, Windsor first found fame in the Carry On films.
One of her most famous scenes was in 1969’s Carry On Camping, when her bikini top flew off in the middle of an exercise class.
In her later years, Windsor campaigned to raise awareness of dementia and said she was “thrilled” by the public response.
She delivered a letter signed by 100,000 people to Boris Johnson demanding better care for dementia sufferers, cheekily asking the prime minister at the end of their chat: “Can I have a kiss?”
So sad about Barbara Windsor, so much more than a great pub landlady & Carry On star. She campaigned for the lonely and the vulnerable – and cheered the world up with her own British brand of harmless sauciness & innocent scandal. Thoughts with Scott and all her family & friends.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 11, 2020
Mr Johnson tweeted that he was “so sad” to hear of her death, adding: “Thoughts with Scott and all her family and friends.”
The actress was widely credited with having lifted the stigma around dementia.
Tim Parry from Alzheimer’s Research UK said the charity and those affected by the disease would be “forever grateful for (Dame Barbara’s) dignified contribution to dementia campaigning in her final years”.
He added that her work in “helping to rally support and demystify an often misunderstood condition made a difference to us and many others and further adds to her legacy as a one of the nation’s favourites”.
Earlier this year, Dame Barbara’s husband revealed she was suffering more with the disease and often did not recognise him.
She was moved into a care home in July.