Leslie Grantham’s ‘gaunt’ appearance shocked pals as he’s seen for final time

Leslie Grantham had just ­finished a new gangland movie that he hoped would propel him back into the spotlight when he died today at the age of 71.

It came just days after his former painter revealed the “grey and gaunt” EastEnders legend had admitted to him he had cancer on a recent visit to Britain.

As the final pictures of the star emerged – taken three months ago at his London home – tributes flooded in for Leslie, who played “Dirty Den” Watts in the BBC soap.

But former Albert Square co-star Anita Dobson told of her heartache at not getting to see her pal before he died. He is thought to have had lung cancer.

The painter, who used to work on Leslie’s home in ­Twickenham, South West London, said the actor was clearly ill when they chatted.

He added: “I said to him, ‘You alright, Les?’ He said, ‘I’m fine,’ but he looked dead to me from the outside he looked bad.

“He was positive about it all but once you get cancer… He said he had it and it went but it came back. He didn’t have much on him.”

Leslie was admitted to hospital after finishing filming The Krays: Dead Man Walking. He plays Nipper Read, the policeman who finally nailed the gangster twins.

A source said: “He was happy to be home in England and had hoped this was going to put him back in the spotlight. He was ready to return to acting with a bang.”

Anita, 69, told how she was on her way to Leslie’s bedside to say farewell when she heard the news.

He had returned from Bulgaria – where he lived after ­splitting with his wife of 31 years, Jane, in 2013 – due to his illness.

Anita, who played Dirty Den’s wife Angie in EastEnders, said she had been planning to tell him he “made TV history” and was “the archetypal charming rogue”.

Leading the many tributes, she added: “He was a beautiful man and I cherished all the those years we got to spend together.

“The world of British acting and television lost a prodigious talent and we will all feel his loss. He will be missed.

“He was charming, he was funny, he was a good actor. He was good to be around. We were good mates.

“There was always that look about him that you didn’t know what he was going to do next. That was his ace in the hole. There was that bit about him that was slightly unpredictable which I liked and I think gave him the edge.

“There was a kind of ­restlessness in him. They were memorable times. They changed my life and they changed his. We were both really lucky that we were cast ­opposite each other.

“The chemistry was magic it just happened.”

Letitia Dean, Den’s “princess” Sharon in EastEnders, also paid tribute to the actor, who starred in the soap from 1985 to 1989 before returning in 2003. He was axed in 2005 over an online sex incident.

Letitia said: “I have very special memories of working with Leslie and will cherish them always.

“He and Anita looked after me in my early days and showed me the ropes, always with care and ­kindness. He never failed to make me laugh and I will remember him with love, affection and gratitude.”

Gillian Taylforth, who plays Kathy Beale, added: “I’m deeply saddened to hear the very sad news. I have so many happy ­memories of working with Leslie, he was always great fun and we shared many laughs.

“Those iconic Christmas episodes were legendary. My heart goes out to his loved ones.”

June Brown, Walford matriarch Dot Cotton, said: “I was very fond of Leslie and am so sorry that he has gone. I always enjoyed talking to him, he made me laugh and always had a twinkle in his eye when he said outrageous things.”

Tracy Ann Oberman played Den’s wife Chrissie from 2004 until 2005. She said: “He was a very, very good actor and one who created an iconic character with Dirty Den.”

EastEnders’ executive consultant John Yorke added: “Everyone is deeply saddened to hear Leslie has passed away.”

Others paying tribute included EastEnders’ Adam Woodyatt and Dean Gaffney, and Citizen Khan’s Adil Ray and Vicky Michelle.

Leslie is believed to have sold his Bulgarian property and returned to England in April. His publicist said there will be a private funeral.

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