Emmerdale actor Steve Halliwell dies after 29 years as Zak Dingle

Graham Stothard looks back on Steve Halliwell's career

Emmerdale actor Steve Halliwell, who played Zak Dingle, has died at the age of 77.

Halliwell, who spent 29 years on the soap, died peacefully surrounded by loved ones, ITV said.

In a statement, his family said: "He was making us laugh to the end.

"The most amazing father and grandfather you could ever wish for, family was everything to him."

They paid tribute to staff at St James's Hospital in Leeds and Wheatfield Hospice "for their love and kindness in his final days".

"He didn't want sadness, just to rejoice in a life well lived," the statement added.

Born in Bury, Lancashire, in 1946, Halliwell was an apprentice engineer and worked in cotton and paper mills before training at the Mountview Theatre School. 

He was a founding member of the Interchange Theatre in Bury.

His other acting credits included Cracker, Heartbeat and Coronation Street, but he became best known for playing Zak Dingle, the patriarch of the Dingle family and the father of Cain, Belle and Sam Dingle.

Halliwell played Zak Dingle, the patriarch of the Dingle family. Credit: ITV/Emmerdale

'Adored, loved, respected'

Lisa Riley, who plays Zak Dingle's niece, Mandy, on Emmerdale, paid tribute to Halliwell on social media.

She wrote: "My dearest Steve, love you so much. You are now finally at peace. Thank you for years of laughter, you were still laughing right up to the end.

"Adored, loved, respected by us all, a legend in my eyes that’s for sure. We have stories and memories to last for many more years to come."

Before his on-screen success, Halliwell was once jailed for two weeks for sleeping rough in an empty government building in London. He spoke openly about his struggles with depression.

In 2003, he took a short break from Emmerdale for personal reasons, later revealing he had spent time at an alcohol rehabilitation centre.

He had a further period away from the show in September 2018, when he had heart surgery and a pacemaker fitted.

Halliwell’s role as Zak Dingle was not initially intended to be permanent but he became an integral character on the long-running serial drama after winning over viewers and producers.

Steve Halliwell was one of Emmerdale's longest serving actors. Credit: ITV/Emmerdale

Known for his flat cap, wellies and wax jacket attire, the pig farmer featured in a number of dramatic storylines, including divorcing his first wife Nellie, played by Sandra Gough, and later marrying Lisa, portrayed by Jane Cox.

There was further trouble when he had affair and married Joanie Wright, played by Denise Black, before later reuniting with Lisa.

The actor said the turbulent storylines were not too far from his own personal life.

He told the Mirror in 2014: “I was born to play Zak Dingle – the cap really does fit. Most of the storylines I’ve lived in real life. I’ve been broke, evicted, in trouble with the law.

“Then there’s depression, drinking and having to fight your way out of situations. I’ve lived all those things and more.

“I can’t blame anyone else. I pressed the self-destruct button.”

'The undoubted father of the show'

The actor said he had never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had considered if that might be at play.

He also described himself as a “functioning alcoholic” as he could work and live his life but admitted he was “too reliant on drink”.

He documented his experiences in his autobiography If the Cap Fits: My Rocky Road to Emmerdale.

John Whiston, managing director of continuing drama and head of ITV  in the north, said: "Steve Halliwell was one of those rare human beings who was as wonderful off screen as on.

"To millions of Emmerdale viewers he was the brawny but crafty Dingle patriarch who led the clan with a strong fist and a warm heart. To everyone who worked on Emmerdale he was a much loved friend and colleague, the undoubted father of the show, but also its fun mischievous uncle. We will miss him enormously."

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