Oscar-nominated actor Pete Postlethwaite has died, a spokesman announced today. He was 64.
Journalist and friend Andrew Richardson said Mr Postlethwaite passed away peacefully in hospital in Shropshire yesterday following a lengthy illness.
The actor had continued to work until recent months despite receiving treatment for cancer.
His family has requested that the media respect their privacy.
Mr Postlethwaite, who was made an OBE in the 2004 New Year’s Honours List, was described by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg as “the best actor in the world”. They worked together on 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' and 'Amistad'.
In response to the praise, Mr Postlethwaite joked: “I’m sure what Spielberg actually said was, ’the thing about Pete is that he thinks he’s the best actor in the world’.”
Postlethwaite received his Oscar nomination for his performance as Guiseppe Conlon in the 1993 film 'In The Name Of The Father', about the wrongful convictions of the so-called Guildford Four for an IRA bomb attack.
In it he starred alongside his friend and fellow actor Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson.
Mr Postlethwaite and Mr Day-Lewis had previously worked together in repertory theatre in Bristol during the 1970s.
His other films included 'Brassed Off', 'The Usual Suspects', 'The Shipping News', 'Inception', 'Romeo & Juliet' and 'The Town'.
Born in Warrington, he had originally planned to be a priest. He later became a teacher but eventually followed his passion for the stage, beginning his career at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool where he rubbed shoulders with such future stars as Bill Nighy, Julie Walters, Alan Bleasdale, Jonathan Pryce, Matthew Kelly and Anthony Sher.
In 2008 he returned to the Everyman to play the lead in 'King Lear', a role that he had always wanted to play.
The performance was one of the highlights of Liverpool’s year as the European Capital of Culture.
Mr Postlethwaite was also a political activist who marched against the war in Iraq, supported the Make Poverty History campaign and starred in the 2009 film about global warming, 'The Age of Stupid'.
He also adapted his home to become environmentally-responsible, installing a wind turbine and other features.
Mr Postlethwaite, who lived in rural Shropshire near the Welsh border, was treated at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.
He recently paid tribute to the staff there, telling the Shropshire Star: “They have been wonderful and I am grateful to them.
“I cannot thank them enough for everything that they have done for me.”
He is survived by his wife, Jacqui, his son Will and daughter, Lily.
Julie Walters, who worked with Postlethwaite at the Everyman in Liverpool, said he was a ``big part'' of her early life as an actor.
She said: “He was quite simply the most exciting, exhilarating actor of his generation.
“He invented ’edgy’. He was an exhilarating person and actor.
“Spielberg was right when he said he was the best actor in the world.
“I saw him in Coriolanus and it was the most terrifying, wonderful performance I have ever seen. The audience were privileged to see it.”
Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, praised Postlethwaite’s portrayal of his dying father, Guiseppe.
“I have to say when he played him he obviously lost a bit of weight but he was so, so believable.
“There were times when he turned and these quirky mannerisms that he performed it was like looking at my dad,” Mr Conlon said.
“I don’t think anyone else could have played my father.
“People now look at 'In The Name of Father' and when Pete comes on he’s automatically Guiseppe. And I think that is great testament to his acting ability.”
Postlethwaite spent some time with the Conlon family learning Guiseppe’s characteristics.
Conlon told RTÉ Radio: “I think 'In the Name of the Father' and the part he played in it opened so many doors for him in his versatility.
“He was just capable of being this chameleon who could play anyone.”
He added: “There’s times I just look at it and I think ’Jesus that was my dad’. That’s how good he was.”
Jim Sheridan, who directed 'In the Name of the Father', described Postlethwaite as a fighter and an actor who was genuinely loved.
“Poss, we called him Poss, he was amazing. Everybody loved him,” Sheridan said.
“He was an amazing character and a lovely man.
“He was a great warrior. He looked indestructible, that was the thing about him.”
It is understood Postlethwaite was first diagnosed with cancer around the time of filming 'In the Name of the Father' in the early 1990s.
Sheridan added: “He took no prisoners.
“Poss was wild as well. He was an amazingly virile, strong guy. He drank but it was never a problem. He was an amazing character.
“You’d have to know him. He’d make you laugh every day on the set.”
Sheridan said that the IRA’s 1993 bomb attack on Postlethwaite’s home town of Warrington had a big impact on him.