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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 April 2005, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Acting legend Sir John Mills dies
Sir John Mills
Sir John Mills was one of the UK's most enduring stars
Sir John Mills, one of Britain's best-loved actors and the star of over 100 films, has died at the age of 97.

His films included Great Expectations in 1946 and War and Peace in 1956 and he won an Oscar in 1971 for playing a village idiot in Ryan's Daughter.

He died at home in Buckinghamshire on Saturday morning after a chest infection that lasted several weeks.

"He was unequalled as a world [and] British movie star," his close friend Lord Attenborough said.

'Loyal friend'

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said that the Queen had been "sorry" to hear of the actor's death.

Tony Blair described him as "a great actor, a true gentleman and a loyal friend; someone who made us proud to be British".

And actor Corin Redgrave said that he "disguised his contribution, which was enormous I think, behind a veneer of modesty".

There will be a funeral service for family and friends at St Mary's Church in his home town of Denham on Wednesday. A memorial service is expected to take place at the end of June.

Sir John is survived by his wife Mary Hayley Bell - now Lady Mills - his son Jonathan and daughters Juliet and Hayley, both actresses.

Sir John marrying Mary Bell
Sir John married Mary Bell at a registry office in 1941

The couple were married at Marylebone Register Office in 1941 while Sir John was on leave from the Army but Sir John always regretted not being able to give Lady Mills a church wedding.

But after 60 years, their marriage was finally blessed at the church next door to their home in 2001.

By this time Lady Mills was wheelchair-bound and suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and Sir John had gone almost blind after retinas in both eyes failed.

"I was so proud of Mary. It was the happiest day of my life and my life has been full of happy moments," Sir John said afterwards.

"The body dies but the spirit goes on. Of that I'm certain. One day Mary and I will leave this world, but we'll be reunited in the next."

He was made a CBE in 1960, knighted in 1976 and was given a special honour by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) in 2002.

'Just wonderful'

Sir John studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and started his career on stage, where his talent was spotted by Noel Coward.

Despite failing health, he continued to working until the last.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast With Frost in 2002, Sir John said he would never retire.

"When I get out there, coming across the footlights, it's something that I can hardly explain... such warmth greets me and I feel terrific, it's just wonderful."

Actor and director Stephen Fry will look back at the life and work of his close friend Sir John Mills in a special personal tribute on BBC One this Sunday at 2320BST after Panorama.

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