Bobby Ball, half of the double-act comedy Cannon and Ball, has died aged 76 after testing positive for coronavirus.
Its director, Phil Dale, said in a statement: “It is with great personal sadness that, on behalf of Yvonne Ball and family, and Tommy Cannon, I announce that Bobby Ball has passed away at the Blackpool Victoria Hospital October 28, 2020.
“Bobby had been taken to the hospital for tests because he had breathing problems. At first it was thought to be a lung infection, but a test came back positive for Covid-19. His wife, Yvonne, said the hospital and staff could not have been more wonderful as they were exceptional at their jobs and went out of their way for him and she cannot praise them enough.
“She said the family and Tommy would like to express their sincere thanks to the many people who have been fans of Bobby and know that they will all share in part the great loss and utter sadness that Yvonne, the family and Tommy have. all feel.
Ball was born Robert Harper on January 28, 1944. An avid amateur singer, he rose to prominence on the comedy circuit and later with The Cannon and Ball Show alongside his lifelong friend Tommy Cannon.
The couple, who met in Oldham, Lancashire, where they worked at a welding factory, began their careers playing in pubs and clubs before their first television forays on Opportunity Knocks in 1969 and on Granada TV’s The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club in 1974.
The Cannon and Ball Show first aired on ITV in 1979 and continued to air until 1988, garnering huge audiences.
Although their popularity on television subsequently waned as tastes changed, the couple continued to perform in the theater and panto together in the 90s and the following decade, as well as appearing on television.
Ball has also appeared in television series including Last Of The Summer Wine, Heartbeat, Mount Pleasant, Benidorm, The Cockfields and Not Going Out, and with Cannon he appeared in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2005.
In a 2014 interview, Ball recalled falling out with Cannon for three years in the 1980s. “We started in the shop as welders, we spent 18 years in clubs and then we grew up. … We were surrounded by all these people chatting. They wanted to divide in order to win and instead of sitting down and saying “what’s wrong? “We stopped talking,” he said.
The couple later reconciled and both became pious Christians, eschewing the hedonistic lifestyle they had enjoyed at the height of their fame. In 2015, it was reported that Ball had started giving acting classes to vicars so that they could lead their sermons.
In a statement citing Ball’s slogan “Rock on, Tommy,” Cannon said, “Rock on my good friend I can’t believe it I’m devastated.”
Yvonne Ball said: “I will always miss him, he was so cheerful, full of fun and mischievous. “
Dale described Ball as “a true comedy star who loved to entertain people and he loved life itself. I talked to her every day and it always ended with laughter.
Leading the online tributes, comedian Jason Manford said he was “so heartbroken” and “the comedy community is a poorer place without him.” Presenter Les Dennis described Ball as “a real artist with real funny bones”.
Ball is survived by Yvonne, to whom he had been married for 46 years, and his children Robert, Darren and Joanne.