Coronation Street’s Liz Dawn would have been dead by now if she had not quit smoking five years ago, her physician said.
And Dawn, who bowed out of the soap as Vera Duckworth last month, told how the soap’s famous cobblestones left her breathless.
The 68-year-old actress, who smoked for 50 years, was diagnosed with emphysema five years ago and was told she only had a third of her lung capacity left.
Dawn, who quit the soap due to her ill health, revealed in intimate detail the debilitating effects of the lung disease to encourage youngsters to stop smoking.
The actress now takes at least eight medications a day and regrets having lit up around her Corrie colleagues.
Dawn gave ITV1’s Tonight programme access to her physician Professor Ashley Woodcock and allowed a camera crew to film her visit to the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester to have her lung capacity checked.
Prof Woodcock said that Dawn would be dead now if she had not stubbed out five years ago.
He told the programme: “Liz came to me about five years ago really pretty desperate.
“At that point she could walk just a couple of yards…she was in a really bad way.
“She smoked a lot of cigarettes in her life and she came along with lung function that was very poor.
“Stopping her smoking was really critical and she did that…which has been great because she wouldn’t be here now…if she hadn’t stopped.
“We’ve been able to stabilise her lungs, and in fact give her some improvement by effective medical treatment…
“But she takes I would think eight to 10 medications a day to stay well.”
In heartbreaking scenes aired last month, viewers saw Vera’s husband Jack (Bill Tarmey) find her dead when he came home from the Rovers Return, in a tragic twist to their dream move to Blackpool.
The tear jerking finale marked the final chapter for one of Britain’s best loved TV duos.
Loudmouth Vera was a stalwart of the Street for 33 years who appeared in more than 3,000 episodes,
Corrie producers helped Dawn, allowing her to work three days a week and shooting scenes in which she didn’t need to move around too much or film in the cold.
She told Tonight: “I used to go to Granada and I used to go in the dressing room, and I’d be really breathless before I even did anything.
“And I got that bad, at the end that instead of somebody knocking on the door and saying: ’It’s your scene’, I used to go on a scene earlier and sit on the Duckworths’ set.”
Back in December, the ITV1 show filmed Liz during her final days on the soap.
She said: “Well you know you’re not right...you only have to see steps and you have a trauma.
“And I don’t walk a long way. It’s if you have to do things over and over again...and especially the cobbles.
“The cobbles on that street, honestly! We could do three rehearsals and two takes and honestly I’d be sat on the steps in one of the houses...couldn’t get my breath.”
Dawn regularly has her lungs tested and takes all her medication.
She said: “Oh I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for the medication...that I’m on.
She added: “Every day...I take my medication as soon as I get out of bed.
“My inhalers and different things and that’s how I start off. And (it’s the) same at night.”
Dawn started smoking at the age of 14 and spent her early career as a singer in smoky working men’s clubs.
In 1974, she joined Corrie – and just like Dawn, Vera was a heavy smoker.
Dawn struggled to quit her 20-30-a-day habit, using patches over 10 years, acupuncture and hypnosis. She stopped when her lungs deteriorated.
She said: “When you’re addicted to smoking it’s very hard to stop...I couldn’t answer the phone unless I lit up.”
The actress said she felt “sorry” for the people whom she smoked in front of.
She said: “I mean there are a lot of non-smokers in Coronation Street that I have stood next to and smoked.
“Must have been awful mustn’t it?”
Dawn wants to raise awareness of the condition and to encourage people who are suffering from breathlessness or regular coughs to keep going for check-ups.
She said: “Try your best to stop smoking and especially these youngsters coming up now...that are just starting to smoke.
“I want them to watch this programme and really try not to get addicted to tobacco because it is a killer.”
Liz Dawn – Fighting for Breath: Tonight airs tonight at 8pm on ITV1.