With an IQ of 176, Caroline Aherne was a smart as a whip and an undeniable comedy genius.
And her death from lung cancer on July 2, 2016, aged just 52 left family, friends and fans reeling – especially as few had realised how sick she really was.
She hadn’t been in a hospice or a hospital, and those nearest to her were said to have been too overcome to even plan the funeral.
“It was too quick, we didn’t expect her to go. She was just at home. She left on her own,” a relative said.
For her Royle Family dad, Ricky Tomlinson, her seemingly sudden passing alone in her bungalow in Timperley, Cheshire, came as ‘the biggest shock in the world’.
“It’s knocked me for six,” he said, revealing how her brother Patrick and long-term collaborator Craig Cash had both recently seen her and said she was ‘in good spirits’.
Indeed, just 10 days before her death, Caroline – who had suffered cancer three times – had been cracking gags and had friends in stitches over coffee in the local village.
Carmel Morgan, a screenwriter who worked on Caroline’s BBC show, The Royle Family, told the ECHO: “We went to Costa in Timperley with her best friend Cal, we had such a laugh. She puts on a brave front but you could tell she was ill.
“She never lost her sense of humour though, she was always laughing and joking.”
As a baby, the star – who is to be honoured in tonight’s Fast Show anniversary special – had a rare cancer of the retina, retinoblastoma, which robbed her of most her sight in one eye.
She was later diagnosed and successfully treated for bladder cancer before being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014.
Confirming her diagnosis at a Macmillian Cancer charity event, she told how she’s struggled to take the news in and relied on her famous humour to get her through treatment.
“When you hear them telling you you have cancer, it’s true that you really don’t take it in properly, you just don’t think of the questions,” she said.
“So many funny things happen when you’re in there and, looking back, you do have a right laugh with the nurses. Although I was on morphine, so maybe it was just me laughing.
“But that’s a way you can cope with it. If you can separate yourself from it, a sense of humour really, really helps.”
Again, the treatment worked and co-star and on-screen Fast Show husband, John Thompson, revealed she was in remission by the time they worked on Sky comedy After Hours that year.
“Her hair, beneath her wig, had regrown and she was thin, but despite all this she was on amazing form, the Caroline I knew and loved working with,” he recalled.
“This was the last time I saw her. I’m grateful for that fact, as that was how I would want to remember her.”
Caroline continued to work, voicing Gogglebox and taking on future jobs. But the cancer returned and two months before her death, Caroline told only a handful of her closest friends and family it was terminal and that she had between three and 12 months left to live.
“It’s not going away,'” she said, according to The Sun.
But the humble star had one final wish – and that was for her friends to keep her terminal diagnosis a secret to avoid any ‘fuss’.
“She got in touch and made it clear she knew she was going to die,” a heartbroken friend shared at the time.
“She asked everyone to keep it quiet because she didn’t want any fuss and everyone respected her wishes.
“Most of the people who knew weren’t showbiz friends, but people who had known her all her life.”
Still, when the end came, even those who had been warned weren’t expecting it to come so soon.
It’s thought that the fiercely-private star Caroline kept her deteriorating condition from everyone before taking a turn for the worse.
She didn’t even leave a will, with doting mum Maureen inheriting her £500,000 estate.
And paying tribute to Caroline, her ex-fiancé, Brett Whitford, – who she was briefly engaged to in 2002 – shared the reason Caroline didn’t have children of her own.
According to the Australian businessman, she selflessly refused to put them through the same torment she had experienced.
“Caroline always felt that she didn’t have long to live and that the cancer she had would come back one day,” he explained.
“It coloured the way she lived her life, because there were things she felt she couldn’t do.”
- The Fast Show: Just A Load of Blooming Catchphrases will be on Gold at 9pm this Saturday