Comedian Frank Carson dies after long cancer battle
Frank Carson, the Belfast-born comic who coined the catchphrase "it's a cracker" and once joked with the Pope, has died following a battle with cancer.
The 85-year-old comedian, also known for his quip "it's the way I tell 'em", "set off for his final gig today," his family said in a statement last night.
"He went peacefully at his home in Blackpool surrounded by his greatest fans -- his extended family. We will be taking him home to Belfast to lay him to rest and celebrate his joyful life," the statement read. "It's quieter down here now. God help them up there!!"
Mr Carson, who grew up in a poor part of north Belfast known as "Little Italy" and worked as a tradesman, went on to become friends with some of the world's greatest "old school" comedians, including Eric Morecambe, Bernard Manning, Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan and Norman Wisdom.
He broke into show business on the TV talent show 'Opportunity Knocks' after being inspired by meeting Laurel and Hardy in a Belfast barbershop when he started out performing in local pubs and concert halls. He went on to fame after being commissioned to take part in the TV show 'The Comedians' in the early 1960s.
He worked right up until he succumbed to his battle with stomach cancer, taking in about 80 events a year.
Journalist and friend Eddie McIlwaine said: "He met the present Pope (Benedict XVI) and the Pope said: 'Did you ever meet Elvis Presley?' and Frank said: 'No I have not, but it won't be long now'."
He also worked ceaselessly for charity and was made a Knight of St Gregory by Pope John Paul II in 1987, the highest honour in the Catholic Church.
Only a couple of months ago he was at the late pontiff's beatification ceremony in Rome wearing his knight's uniform, Mr McIlwaine said.
He dedicated much of his life to looking after his wife Ruth, who had serious eyesight problems, with his sons Tony and Aidan and daughter Majella, despite his own heart problems.
They have also put a huge effort into bringing the two sides of the community in Northern Ireland together through education.
Mr McIlwaine said Mr Carson's sense of humour shone through in everything he did.
"He was not just a comedian on stage, he was always a funny man and an expert at the one-liner, he was a naturally born comedian."