Des O’Connor – an “ultimate entertainer” who “shared the laughs” – has died at the age of 88, just days after he suffered a fall at his home.
The TV star, who lit up screens with shows like Today With Des And Mel and Des O’Connor Tonight, died in hospital on Saturday.
His friend and fellow comic Jimmy Tarbuck said the much-loved star, who also enjoyed a singing career, was talking about a return to the stage just before his accident.
His long-time agent and family friend Pat Lake-Smith said in a statement to the PA news agency: “It is with great sorrow that I confirm that Des O’Connor passed away yesterday.
“He was recovering well and had been in great spirits, visited by his family – in accordance with hospital lockdown regulations – and looking forward to going home.
“Unfortunately, yesterday evening his condition suddenly deteriorated and he drifted peacefully away in his sleep.”
O’Connor presented his own prime-time TV shows for over 45 years and he also hosted Countdown with Carol Vorderman.
He first fronted his own show in 1963 while the success of his singing career saw him sell 16 million records and spend 117 weeks in the top 10 of the charts.
The four-times married star appeared on stage around the world, including hundreds of shows at the London Palladium.
He had his own US TV programme and his chat show Des O’Connor Tonight was a British television staple for a quarter of a century. He was also known for appearing in game shows Take Your Pick and Pot Of Gold.
Entertainer Tarbuck, who worked with O’Connor on stage last year, told the PA news agency: “He was a kind person. He is one of the few people in showbusiness who become national heroes.
The pair worked together, on stage, just last year.
“He was terrific… He was frail and he took it easy, but he was terrific. He had the audience cheering at the end and was a pleasure to work with.
“He was very generous in sharing the laughs and not all comedians are like that.
“He was a giggler. You could get him giggling. It was a pleasure to get in the car and go to work, knowing I was working with Des O’Connor.”
The pair spoke just 10 days ago, he said, just before O’Connor had a fall at his home.
“I said, ‘Let’s do another Palladium (after the pandemic), and he said, ‘That appeals, that’s a great idea. I’ll see if I can do it’.”
Comedian Tarbuck added: “He had that thing, which is essential – they (the audience) loved him. They relaxed when you said, ‘Here’s Des now.’… Only a few have it.”
The couple later married, when O’Connor was 75 and Wilson was 38.
He had four daughters from his three previous marriages.
Melanie Sykes, who fronted Today With Des And Mel alongside O’Connor, paid tribute to him, saying it was an “education and a privilege to work with him”.
She wrote on Instagram: “Des had the softest hands of anyone I ever met and the kindest of hearts.
“He had talent in every fibre of his being and was stubborn as a mule. He was the full ticket as a friend and colleague.
“When he chose me to be his co-host on the ‘Today’ daytime show it was one the greatest days of my professional life. It was an education and a privilege to work with him for the years that followed.”
“He loved life and considered enthusiasm almost as important as oxygen. He adored his family – they were everything to him. He is survived by his wife Jodie, their son Adam and his four daughters, Karin, TJ, Samantha and Kristina.
“Jodie’s world is shattered, she and Adam and Des’s daughters are hurting more than you could possibly imagine.
“Des was the ultimate entertainer.
“He loved being on stage – entertaining a live audience. He always said the sound of laughter was like the sound of heavenly music.
“He had a fabulous international TV career, presenting his own prime-time TV shows for over 45 years. On stage he starred at almost every leading venue throughout the world.”
Comedian Tommy Cannon, 82, said he will “always remember him… like a best pal”.
Cannon, known for performing alongside his late comedy partner Bobby Ball, told PA that O’Connor was “a lovely man and all I can say is rest in peace mate because both Bobby and I loved you”.
Writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth hailed O’Connor as the last of the “all-round variety entertainers”.
“Whatever you wanted in entertainment, Des O’Connor could provide, so he was in a way the last of his kind,” the actor and comedian told PA.
O’Connor was made a CBE in 2008 for his services to entertainment and broadcasting.