01/19/2015 05:48 EST | Updated 03/21/2015 05:59 EDT

Anne Kirkbride, Coronation Street actress, dead at 60

Actress Anne Kirkbride, who played Deidre Barlow on the popular U.K. soap Coronation Street for more than four decades, has died. She was 60 years old.

She died in a Manchester, England, hospital after a short illness, according to a statement on the ITV network's site.

Her husband, David Beckett, confirmed her death to the network.

Set in the fictional working-class community of Weatherfield, Coronation Street has been chronicling its characters' lives since 1960, with an endearingly popular mix of social realism, melodrama and humour. Kirkbride's character — renowned for her oversized spectacles and romantic travails — was at the heart of some of the soap's most dramatic story lines for decades.

The show is so popular that when Deirdre was wrongly imprisoned for fraud in 1998, newspapers campaigned for her release and British Prime Minister Tony Blair was among those who proclaimed her innocence.

The cast and crew of Coronation Street said they were "heartbroken and deeply saddened" by the news.

Show creator Tony Warren said Kirkbride was "easy to love" and that "her talent over the years made a massive contribution to Coronation Street."

Her on-screen husband, William Roache, called her "a loving and vibrant person" whose "laugh was never far away."

According to the Mail Online, the actress was originally granted an eight-week break from the show back in September, but after enjoying some time off she then requested a further three months additional leave while she dealt with "personal issues."