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Sir Dirk Bogarde, one of the biggest stars of 20th century British cinema, has died aged 78.

His nephew, Brock Van der Bogaerde, said the former 1950s matinée idol suffered a heart attack at his London home.

He said: "He was extremely happy and looking forward to events like his 80th birthday and many plans for the future. I m sure there is not a better way to go."

Bogarde made his acting debut in 1949 and carved out a niche in the 1950s with a succession of romantic leads in dramas and light comedies, among them Doctor at Sea, with a young Brigitte Bardot. Like Hollywood star Rock Hudson, his sexuality was at odds with his screen persona.

In 1960 the director Joseph Losey gave him a chance to play more serious parts - like The Servant, opposite James Fox. In Victim, another Losey film, he openly played a homosexual: it was a breakthrough. Ten years later came perhaps his finest role, working with the Italian director Luchino Visconti on Death in Venice.

He played a dying composer obsessed with a beautiful boy in a city ravaged by cholera. Bogarde, who anglicised his Dutch surname, relished his fame: in Europe he was revered as an actor as well as a star. For 20 years he lived in a farmhouse in Provence, with his close companion Anthony Forwood. It was here he developed a second career, writing novels and an autobiography.

His screen appearances became increasingly rare. In These Foolish Things he played an exiled Englishman in France, facing death with, as he claimed, no regrets. By then Bogarde, had reluctantly returned to England - a rather melancholy end for a great star who remained a very private man.

Glenda Jackson, the government minister and former actress, said: "I'm desperately sorry that he's died. I worked with him and I regarded him as a friend, although I have not seen him for quite some time. He was our first home-grown film star - he made some remarkable films."

British film director Michael Winner said Sir Dirk was a "gracious, charming" man and said: "People forget that Dirk Bogarde was the male hero of Britain for about 20 years."

"Every girl in the country was in love with him. He was the UK's Leonardo Di Caprio of his day. They don't grow them like that now - it's a very sad day."

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said the Queen would be "saddened" to hear of Sir Dirk's death.

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In Memory

John F Kennedy Jnr 1960-1999

Sir Dirk Bogarde 1921-1999

Oliver Reed 1938-1999

Jill Dando 1961-1999

Stanley Kubrick 1928-1999

Lew Grade 1906-1998

Joan Hickson 1906-1998

Roddy McDowall 1928-1998

Catherine Cookson 1907-1998

Frank Sinatra 1915-1998

Tammy Wynette 1942-1998

Lloyd Bridges 1913-1998

Dermot Morgan 1952-1998

J.T. Walsh 1943-1998

River Phoenix 1970-1993

Brandon Lee 1960-1993

In Memory of River Phoenix

This site has always been, and will always be, dedicated to the memory of River Phoenix, who died on Halloween Night, in 1993.

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