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Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory dies aged 52 from cancer

Robert Dex
·4-min read
 (BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect/Robert Viglasky)
(BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect/Robert Viglasky)

Tributes have been paid to Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory who has died aged 52 from cancer.

Her husband and fellow actor Damian Lewis announced the news saying she had been “surrounded by a wave of love” and died peacefully at home.

The couple, who married in 2007, had a daughter Manon, born in 2006, and son Gulliver, born in 2007.

In a message posted on social media, Lewis said: “I’m heartbroken to announce that after an heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family.”

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McCrory, who was awarded the OBE for services to drama in 2017, was probably best known for playing the fearsome matriarch Polly in crime drama Peaky Blinders but also had a critically acclaimed stage career winning plaudits for National Theatre roles in productions of Medea and Terence Rattigan’s post war drama The Deep Blue Sea.

Her Peaky Blinders co-star Cillian Murphy paid tribute, saying: “I am broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend.

“Helen was a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being.

“She was also a gifted actor – fearless and magnificent. She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played.

“It was a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman, to have shared so many laughs over the years.

“I will dearly miss my pal. My love and thoughts are with Damian and her family.”

McCrory also starred in ITV drama Quiz and a number of the Harry Potter films as well as the Bond film Skyfall. The actress also played Cherie Blair, wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, in both The Queen and The Special Relationship.

She was a constant supporter of the London theatre scene, a regular at the Evening Standard theatre awards and just this year lent her support to the paper’s Future Theatre Fund which gave financial support to the next generation of talent.

Among the tributes being paid was one from the Almeida Theatre - the Islington venue where she performed several times.

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National Theatre boss Rufus Norris said he was “devastated” to hear of her death.

He said: “With her incisive wit and ferocious intelligence, she was one of our most charismatic and distinctive performers. She was also a deeply beloved member of this theatre’s broader community.

“All my colleagues join me in wishing her family and friends our deepest condolences. We are shattered, and will all miss her terribly.”

Also paying tribute was actor Reece Shearsmith who said she was “immaculate and brilliant” and her death was “an unfathomable loss”.

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Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern said she was “fearless and brilliant”, describing her as a shining light.

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Piers Wenger, BBC director of drama, paid tribute to McCrory, saying: “Helen was one of the finest actresses this country will ever see. From Potter to Peaky, from Blair to Bond, Helen’s fearlessness made every part she played unique and unmissable.

“Her body of work speaks of her extraordinary talent, what it doesn’t speak of is her kindness, intelligence and sense of fun. This is too soon, too cruel. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this incredibly sad time.”

JK Rowling paid also paid tribute to McCrory, who played Narcissa Malfoy, mother of Slytherin student Draco, in the Harry Potter films.

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Also paying tribute was London mayor Sadiq Khan who praised her “unparalleled talent” and charity work.

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Only weeks before her death, she appeared on TV alongside Lewis to speak in support of the Prince’s Trust.

McCrory was born in Paddington to a Welsh mother and Scottish-born father and was the eldest of three children.

She attended school in Hertfordshire, then spent a year living in Italy, before returning to London to study acting at the Drama Centre.

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