Beloved Emmerdale star Steve Halliwell has died at the age of 77 after spending 29 years on the Yorkshire soap as Zak Dingle.

ITV said that the popular actor died peacefully while surrounded by loved ones with the family also releasing a statement about the sad news.

The family said: "He was making us laugh to the end.

"The most amazing father and grandfather you could ever wish for, family was everything to him."

They also paid tribute to the staff at St James Hospital in Leeds and Wheatfield Hospice "for their love and kindness in his final days".

The statement added: "He didn't want sadness, just to rejoice in a life well lived."

Born in Lancashire in 1946, Halliwell was an apprentice engineer and worked in cotton and paper mills before attending Mountview Theatre School. 

He has starred in a number of soaps including Coronation Street and Cracker. However, he became best known for his role as Zak Dingle, the head of the Dingle family.

Before becoming known on screen, the star was once jailed for two weeks after he was found rough sleeping in an empty government building in London.

He has also opened up about his struggles with depression and other issues.

In 2003, he took a break from Emmerdale for personal reasons and later revealed that he had spent time at an alcohol rehabilitation centre.

John Whiston, managing director of continuing drama and head of ITV  in the north, said: "Steve Halliwell was one of those rare human beings who was as wonderful off screen as on.

"To millions of Emmerdale viewers he was the brawny but crafty Dingle patriarch who led the clan with a strong fist and a warm heart. To everyone who worked on Emmerdale he was a much loved friend and colleague, the undoubted father of the show, but also its fun mischievous uncle. We will miss him enormously."