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29 October 2020, 09:32 | Updated: 29 October 2020, 12:36
Bobby Ball, one half of comedy double act Cannon & Ball, has died at the age of 76 after testing positive for COVID-19, his manager has said.
A statement on behalf of Ball's wife Yvonne, his family and his long-time comedy partner Tommy Cannon said he passed away at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on Wednesday evening at around 9.30pm.
The statement from Ball's manager Phil Dale said: "Bobby had been taken to the hospital for tests as he started with breathing problems. At first it was thought to be a chest infection but a test proved positive for Covid-19.
"His wife Yvonne said the hospital and staff could not have been more wonderful, as they were outstanding in their care of duty and they did everything possible for him and she cannot praise them enough.
"She said that the family and Tommy would like to express their sincere thanks to the many, many people who have been fans of Bobby and they know that they will all share in part the great loss and total sadness that Yvonne, the family and Tommy all feel.
"Yvonne added that their need for privacy at this time has to be a priority. No further announcements or statements will be made."
Echoing one of Ball's famous catchphrases - "Rock on Tommy!" - Cannon, who first teamed up with Ball in the early 1960s, said: "Rock on, my good friend, I can't believe this, I'm devastated."
The comedy legends had been planning four nights of festive comedy at Lytham's Lowther Pavilion in the run-up to Christmas, after their pantomime date at Crewe was postponed.
Fellow comedians including Les Dennis and Jason Manford paid tribute to Ball, with Dennis tweeting: "Just heard the sad news that the wonderful Bobby Ball has died. He was a true entertainer with real funny bones."
Manford wrote: "So heartbroken to read about the passing of comedy legend Bobby Ball. Such a hilarious man. The comedy community is a poorer place without him. #RockOn #RIPBobbyBall".
Actor Shane Richie paid an emotional tribute, writing on Twitter: "35yrs ago my hero became my friend. You always knew when Bobby was in the room, he could make you laugh & cry with just a look. The biggest heart & warmest smile that filled stages everywhere. I loved you Bobby Ball and I always will ,Truly truly one of a kind . Sleep well cocker!"
While singer Robbie Williams wrote: "God bless you Bobby Ball. Thank you for the memories and the laughter. RIP."
Born Robert Harper on 28 January 1944, Ball found fame on the The Cannon & Ball Show opposite his lifelong friend and fellow comic Tommy Cannon.
The pair first met while working as welders, but their comedy took them from the factory floor to the TV studio, with their primetime Saturday night ITV show successfully running from 1979 to 1988.
They also starred in the 1982 film The Boys in Blue in which they played bungling police officers, and the 1988 movie Mr H Is Late alongside Eric Sykes.
Ball went on to appear in TV series including Last Of The Summer Wine, Heartbeat, Mount Pleasant, Benidorm, The Cockfields and Not Going Out where he had played Lee Mack's deadbeat dad Frank since 2009.
Cannon & Ball also appeared on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! in 2005.
Whetting his appetite for reality TV, Ball went on to compete in the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special in 2012.
In 1986 Ball became a born-again Christian, and was followed into the faith by Cannon six years later. The pair credited their conversion with bringing them back together again as friends and performers.
A patron of the local NHS charity Blue Skies, Ball had recently raised £30,000 towards the development of the dementia garden at his local Clifton Hospital, in Lytham, Lancashire.
Speaking about her husband of 46-years, Yvonne said: "I will always miss him, he was so joyful, full of fun and mischievous."
His manger, Dale, said: "Bobby was a true comedy star who loved entertaining people and he loved life itself. I spoke to him every day and it would always end in laughter."
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Ball is survived by two sons from his first wife, Robert and Darren, his daughter Joanne,10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.