Ronnie Corbett, UK Comedy Great And One-Half Of Famed Comedic Duo ‘The Two Ronnies,’ Dies At 85

Ronnie Corbett, a man hailed as a U.K. comedy great who was called a “giant of British entertainment” by British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has died. He was 85-years-old.

Ronnie Corbett, who was perhaps best known as one-half of the comedy duo The Two Ronnies, alongside fellow comedian Ronnie Barker, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease — another term of ALS — in March of 2015 and had been severely ill for many months prior to his death. A statement from his publicist released following his death stated that Corbett had passed away in the hospital surrounded by family and friends.

“Ronnie Corbett CBE, one of the nation’s best-loved entertainers, passed away this morning, surrounded by his loving family. They have asked that their privacy is respected at this very sad time.”

Born Ronald Balfour Corbett on December 4, 1930, In Edinburgh, Scotland, Ronnie was the son of master baker William Balfour Corbett and Annie Elizabeth Corbett. He attended both James Gillespie’s High School and Royal High School in Edinburgh, but upon graduation, he did not enroll in a university. After high school, Corbett served his compulsory National Service with the Royal Air Force. Following his stint in the Royal Air Force, Ronnie Corbett moved to London to pursue his dream of acting.

Due to his diminutive stature — Corbett stood a mere five-too-one — he was often given roles younger than his age, and over the years, his self-deprecating sense of humor often had him referencing his height in many of his comedy bits. When he first moved to London, Corbett worked at the Buckstone Club, where he would star in intimate revues and summer seasons, as well as running the bar, reports the Telegraph. It was during this time that Ronnie Corbett would meet his comedic other half, Ronnie Barker, but it wouldn’t be until many years later that the two would become known as one of the greatest comedic duos in U.K. history.

And it happened quite by accident.

According to the Guardian, in 1971, Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker were hosting the BAFTA award ceremony, when a technical glitch left them to entertain the audience, completely unscripted, while the glitch was being fixed. The resulting eight minutes so impressed Bill Cotton, the head of Light Entertainment for the BBC, and Paul Fox, the controller of BBC1 who happened to be watching at the time, that they immediately offered Corbett and Barker their own show.

The Two Ronnies ran from 1971 until 1987 and skyrocketed Corbett to a U.K. comedy great, who was known for his wit, perfect comedic timing, and, according to comedian Michael Palin in an interview with BBC Radio 4, his silliness.

“Ronnie had a great sense of silliness, which I responded to greatly. He could do the serious stuff as well but there was a lovely sort of mischief, his eyes twinkled. He was absolutely delightful to play with and against, and do material with and, also, just a good friend too.”

In the 2012 New Years Honors, Corbett was awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to charity and the entertainment industry. It was later revealed by his wife, Anne, that during a celebration following the award ceremony, Ronnie had collapsed in a restaurant and had to be rushed to the hospital. His failing health caused Corbett to stay out of the spotlight in recent years, and his most recent television role was in Ronnie’s Animal Crackers, in which Corbett took a “wry look at Great Britain’s obsession with pets, discovering the lengths people will go to for their pets.”

U.K. comedy great Ronnie Corbett passed away at 85-years-old after more than six decades in the entertainment industry. He is survived by his wife, Anne, and his daughters, Emma and Sophie.

[Photo by Rebecca Naden – WPA Pool/Getty Images]

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