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Caroline Aherne, Comedian Behind 'Royle Family,' Dies at 52

by The Associated Press /  / Updated 
This Sept 21, 1999 file photo shows comedian Caroline Aherne at the Elle Style Awards in London. A British publicist says Aherne, a writer and star of the working-class comedy "The Royle Family," has died from cancer at 52.AP

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LONDON — Caroline Aherne, a sharp-witted writer and star of the bittersweet working-class comedy "The Royle Family," has died from cancer at 52, her publicist announced Saturday.

Aherne was best known for her "Royle Family" character Denise, a sofa-bound, chain-smoking TV addict given to boozy bouts of narcissism and child neglect. She co-wrote and helped to direct the show during its Bafta-winning run from 1998 to 2000.

She also starred in her own 1995-98 comedy talk show in the silver-permed, nosy-grandma persona of Mrs. Merton, who adopted a tone of naive innocence as she asked falsely sympathetic, insinuating questions of her guests.

 This Sept 21, 1999 file photo shows comedian Caroline Aherne at the Elle Style Awards in London. A British publicist says Aherne, a writer and star of the working-class comedy "The Royle Family," has died from cancer at 52. AP

Her publicist, Neil Reading, said Aherne died Saturday at her home in Manchester, northwest England, two years after announcing she was receiving treatment for lung cancer.

Aherne was a heavy smoker and drinker who battled depression, culminating in a 1998 suicide attempt at the height of her fame. She also faced several forms of cancer dating back to her childhood, when she lost partial sight in one eye from cancer of the retina.

She started out on Manchester's comedy club circuit in the 1980s, where she honed routines based on absurdly drawn characters, including a judgmental nun, Sister Mary Immaculate. Her first break came when Mrs. Merton gained a following on a Manchester radio station dispensing advice to callers.

While parlaying that fame into improvised interviews on "The Mrs. Merton Show," Aherne also worked as a writer and troupe member on the sketch comedy "Fast Show." Among her characters was the weather girl on a fictional Mediterranean news channel, whose entire report involved applying blazing-sun logos to a map and repeatedly declaring: "Scorchio!"

Her richly Mancunian voice returned to British airwaves in 2013 as the narrator of a British reality TV series, "Gogglebox," documenting people's humorous reactions to the week's TV programs. She won plaudits from viewers earlier this year when, after time away for cancer treatment, she returned to the show in March with her voice rasping and weak.

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