Emmerdale actress Kitty McGeever dies aged 48
Emmerdale actress Kitty McGeever, who became the first blind actress to have a starring role in a British soap, has died at the age of 48.
McGeever played the character of Lizzie Lakely for four years after joining Emmerdale in 2009.
A spokeswoman for the show said the actress died on Sunday night, "surrounded by her loving family".
McGeever had trained at Rada and her previous TV credits included Beautiful People and London's Burning.
She also worked as a stand-up comedian and was a regular performer on the comedy circuit.
The spokeswoman said: "Kitty was a great talent and a true inspiration to all who worked with her. The cast and crew are devastated at her passing and she will be missed tremendously and remembered fondly by all of us."
McGeever lost her sight at the age of 33, shortly before winning her role on Emmerdale.
She had been diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 19; and developed the life-threatening condition pre-eclampsia while pregnant with her first son, Felix.
When he developed heart and lung conditions at the age of four months, she became ill with stress - triggering heart problems, kidney failure and diabetic retinopathy, which eventually resulted in the loss of her sight.
"My kidneys weren't working so my body was filling with fluid and I went into heart failure," she told The Mirror in 2009. "I realised there was something wrong with my eyes and went to see the specialist.
"They told me I had this condition that would usually take five to 10 years to take my sight, but it took five months because of all the stress."
Emmerdale producer Kate Oakes said McGeever was awaiting a kidney transplant when she died.
"Sadly she ran out of time on that, but what she did do was donate her liver and also her corneas, so Kitty's family and Kitty have hopefully given the gift of life to someone else through this tragedy, which I think is just a wonderful thing," she said in a video on the ITV website.
Following news of McGeever's death, the actress's co-stars paid tribute on Twitter.
Gemma Oaten, who plays Rachel Breckle in the programme, tweeted: "So sad to hear the news our dear Kitty McGeever has died. Never forget the scenes we used to have with her infectious laugh."
Chelsea Halfpenny, the soap's Amy Wyatt, said: "So, so saddened by the loss of our lovely Kitty McGeever. I feel so lucky to have worked with such a wonderful, hard-working woman."
And Rik Makarem, who shared screen time with the actress as Nikhil Sharma, tweeted: "Deeply emotional hearing Kitty McGeever passed away. This woman was strength personified. A beautiful generous spirit."
McGeever's character was initially a loveable rogue who arrived in the soap wearing a tag following a conviction for a petty crime.
In a 2009 interview, McGeever told the BBC Lizzie "is irreverent, she's naughty, she's manipulative in the extreme".
She added: "She uses her disability to her advantage and then disregards it to her advantage whenever and whichever way she chooses."
The character's bad behaviour continued, but she settled down over time as she made more friends in the village and took up a job at Jai Sharma's sweet factory.
She also supported best friend Lisa Dingle after she confided in her about being raped.
The actress was forced to quit the soap in 2013 due to ill health.