Saddest news about Caroline Aherne, a gifted daughter of the Irish Diaspora whose great talent has been cut short by cancer. Aherne, star and writer of The Royle Family and The Mrs Merton Show, had suffered from cancer, her publicist said. The actress said two years ago that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, having previously had bladder and eye cancer.
Aherne was also the narrator of Gogglebox and appeared in The Fast Show. Her publicist Neil Reading said on Saturday: “Caroline Aherne has sadly passed away, after a brave battle with cancer. The Bafta award-winning writer and comedy actor died earlier today at her home in Timperley, Greater Manchester. She was 52. The family ask for privacy at this very sad time.”
Aherne had spoken of her diagnosis with cancer while addressing an appeal to approve cancer care in Manchester in 2014, saying: “I’ve had cancer and my brother’s had cancer and we know how it affects people.” She said she and her brother had been born with cancer of the retina, adding: “My mum told us that only special people get cancer. I must be very special because I’ve had it in my lungs and my bladder as well.”
— Sky News (@SkyNews) July 2, 2016
Aherne’s co-stars and fellow comics have been paying tribute to her. Sue Johnston, who played Barbara – the mother of Aherne’s character Denise – in The Royle Family, said: “I am devastated at her passing and I am numb with grief.” Ralf Little, Denise’s brother Antony in the show, said Aherne was “a sister, real and (for me) fake”, as well as a genius and a friend with a “big, big heart”. The Fast Show co-star Arabella Weir told the BBC Aherne was “an absolute genius” and that “everything she said was funny”. Royle Family co-star Ricky Tomlinson, who played her character’s father Jim, said he was “so bloody shocked” at her death. “She was absolutely wonderful and amazing to work for. Kind, funny, witty. A true professional and one of the most generous people I have ever worked with.”
Alan Partridge comic Steve Coogan hailed his “incredibly funny” long-time friend, telling ITV News: “It was almost like an honour to have her make fun of you because you couldn’t help but laugh. It’s hard to imagine not hearing that laughter.” Aherne gained public attention as the Checkout Girl in The Fast Show. But she became a household name as straight-talking blue-rinse granny Mrs Merton in The Mrs Merton Show, which first aired on BBC Two in 1995 and won the best talk show Bafta in 1997.
Aherne began performing on the Manchester comedy circuit as characters such as Mitzi Goldberg, lead singer of the comedy country and western act the Mitzi Goldberg Experience, and Sister Mary Immaculate, an Irish nun. She developed her Mrs Merton character with Frank Sidebottom for his show on Piccadilly Radio, where she worked as a receptionist. Aherne’s first TV appearances were as Mrs Merton in a semi-regular spot on the Granada TV discussion show “Upfront” in 1990. She made brief appearances in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer in 1993 and alongside Steve Coogan and John Thomson in a Granada TV pilot entitled The Dead Good Shows.
Noel Gallagher pays tribute to pal Caroline Aherne with moving rendition of Half the World Away https://t.co/cHDKEwark0
— Manchester News MEN (@MENnewsdesk) July 4, 2016
Between 1994 and 1997 she appeared in and wrote for the BBC comedy series The Fast Show. One of her most notable characters was the “Chanel 9 Neus” meteorologist Poula Fisch, who invariably reported a temperature for all locations of 45 °C (113 °F) while exclaiming “Scorchio!” with apparent surprise.
The Royle Family was born after she and friend Craig Cash, who played gormless Dave Best in the show, threw themselves into their work after a suicide attempt, which she described as her lowest ebb. It is considered to be a classic British sitcom, despite the unusual format of a working class family sitting in a living room. The BBC show was the toast of the 1999 British Comedy Awards, scooping four trophies including best actress for Aherne. It went on to take home the best sitcom Bafta in 2000 and 2007. Aherne was nominated for Baftas for her performance in both shows, as well as her directing of The Royle Family in 2001.
— David Walliams (@davidwalliams) July 2, 2016
The star, who had been a smoker, struggled with health problems for years. Born on Christmas Eve 1963 in Ealing, West London, Caroline was the daughter of Bert, an alcoholic Irish railway labourer. The family moved north when she was two, and she was raised on a council estate in Wythenshawe, one of the toughest areas of Manchester. She was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the retina as a child – like her older brother Patrick. She was sent to Lourdes in search of a miracle cure but was left with severely impaired sight in one eye.
She later fought depression and drink problems – giving a rambling and slurred acceptance speech at the British Comedy Awards in 1996 after being named best female performer. She spent time in the Priory clinic following a suicide attempt, before moving to Australia to avoid the glare of publicity.
The star also had a string of failed relationships – her marriage to former New Order guitarist Peter Hook ended and she began a romance with TV researcher Matt Bowers. They split, but she was devastated when he died of cancer at the age of 28.
Caroline was a fragile star who made everyone happy – except herself. She had a higher IQ than Stephen Hawking. But she couldn’t cope with the fame her genius brought. Some close pals said yesterday she was fully aware that, having previously survived retina and bladder cancer, she was not going to come through lung and throat cancer this time. she was semi-retired for the final decade of her life, having quit television in 2001 because she no longer wanted to be famous.
Mary Caroline Aherne (24 December 1963 – 2 July 2016) Comedian and BAFTA-winning writer and actress
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