Dame Barbara Windsor, best known for her roles in EastEnders and the Carry On films, has died aged 83, her husband has announced.
Scott Mitchell said in a statement: “It is with deep sadness that I can confirm that my darling wife, Barbara, passed away at 8.35pm on Thursday 10 December at a London care home.
“Her passing was from Alzheimer’s/dementia and Barbara eventually died peacefully and I spent the last seven days by her side.
“Myself, her family and friends will remember Barbara with love, a smile and affection for the many years of her love, fun, friendship and brightness she brought to all our lives and the entertainment she gave to so many thousands of others during her career.
“Barbara’s final weeks were typical of how she lived her life. Full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end.
“It was not the ending that Barbara or anyone else living with this very cruel disease deserves. 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.”
Mitchell called for greater government funding for research into Alzheimer’s and dementia, and care for those with the conditions.
Windsor, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, campaigned to raise awareness of the disease in her later years, delivering a letter that demanded better care for dementia patients to Boris Johnson in 2019.
Kate Lee, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, described Windsor as “an amazingly true, much-loved national treasure, and in speaking out about her experiences shone like a beacon for others affected by dementia … [Windsor and Mitchell] were also instrumental in highlighting the dire state of social care and the need for change, including joining us to visit the prime minister, always driven by their desire to help those desperately struggling to cope with this devastating condition – demonstrated again in Scott’s moving statement today”.
Windsor made her debut as Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders in 1994 and soon became one of television’s best-loved characters as she yelled at rogue drinkers to “get outta my pub!”
It became the defining role of her career, starring alongside Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden as her fictional sons Grant and Phil, with the late Mike Reid as her on-screen husband, Frank Butcher.
The actor was given a number of high-profile storylines during her time on the soap, including a groundbreaking breast cancer arc. Her final episode, in which Peggy killed herself after refusing treatment for her returning breast cancer, received plaudits from critics and fans.
A representative for McFadden told PA he was “devastated” by her death. Danniella Westbrook, who played Windsor’s daughter in EastEnders, Sam
Mitchell, called her a “national treasure” and praised her as a “generous, warm, funny, humble and beautiful lady and someone who gave us all much joy watching her act”.
The TV presenter Jonathan Ross tweeted: “Barbara Windsor in real life was everything you might have hoped for. So warm, so funny, so kind. Goodnight sweetheart x Barbara Windsor”. While the veteran DJ Tony Blackburn said: “So sorry to hear Barbara Windsor has passed away, a lovely lady who was always such fun. RIP Babs.”
In 2003 Windsor took a sabbatical from EastEnders for medical reasons after being diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, but she returned as a series regular in 2005.
In 2009, she announced she would be leaving the soap again to spend more time with her husband, whom she married in 2000.
She returned for cameo appearances in the soap over the next few years but in 2016 she played Peggy for the last time. Her final scenes aired in May that year.
Before finding fame in EastEnders, Windsor was best known for her portrayals of “good time girls”, especially in the Carry On series.
In 1964, Windsor was cast as Agent Daphne Honeybutt in the James Bond send-up Carry On Spying. It was the first of nine appearances as various buxom, innuendo-spouting blondes in the bawdy comedy film series, the most famous of which came in Carry On Camping, where her character’s bra flew off during an aerobics class. Windsor’s final Carry On appearance was in Carry On Dick (1974).
The only child of a costermonger and a dressmaker, Windsor was born Barbara Deeks in Shoreditch, London, in 1937. She trained at the Aida Foster Theatre school in Golders Green and made her stage debut at 13.
A first film role in The Belles of St Trinian’s followed at 17. During her teenage years she appeared in the chorus lines of several West End musicals and, in 1953 – inspired by the recent coronation of Elizabeth II – adopted the stage name Barbara Windsor.
After attending Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, she landed a breakout starring role in the Littlewood and Lionel Bart musical production of Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, which was followed by a starring role in Littlewood’s 1963 film Sparrows Can’t Sing.
Windsor received a best British film actress nomination for her performance in the film, whose world premiere in east London attracted a who’s who of local luminaries, with the notorious Kray twin gangsters handling the after-hours festivities.
“There were thousands of people lining the Mile End Road, cheering and waving flags,” Windsor told the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries in 2001. “Evidently Ronnie and Reggie had turned them all out of their houses, saying, ‘Let’s welcome our little lady. Let’s show royalty how we are.’”
Windsor and Reggie Kray had a brief relationship before her marriage to local gangster Ronnie Knight, the Kray associate who was jailed in 1995 for his role in the 1983 armed robbery of a Security Express depot.
The actor married three times in total; after her separation from Knight in 1985 she married the restaurateur Stephen Hollings, whom she divorced in 1995, and then she married Mitchell.
Windsor received a damehood for services to charity and entertainment in the 2016 new year honours list. She continued to work in film, broadcasting and onstage in her later years, providing voice work for Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice Through the Looking Glass, and presenting occasional series for Radio 2. Her final on-screen role was, fittingly, in Babs, a biopic of her life scripted by the Eastenders creator, Tony Jordan.
“For a girl from the East End born into a working class family and an evacuee during world war two, this is truly like a dream,” she said after being made a dame.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.