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Dramatist's last hours spent in home he shared with star

ARTHUR Miller, one of the great figures of 20th-century theatre, died of heart failure after a battle against cancer, pneumonia and a heart condition.

The 89-year-old writer of 'Death of a Salesman' and 'The Crucible' had been in hospice care at his sister's apartment in New York since his release from hospital last month.

However, at his request he was taken by ambulance earlier this week to his main home - an 18th-century farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut, which he bought in 1958 while he was married to Marilyn Monroe.

He was surrounded in his final hours by family and close friends. They included Agnes Barley, a 34-year-old painter who had been his girlfriend for the past two years - a relationship which propelled Miller's private life back into the limelight.

Others at his bedside were his sister, the actress Joan Copeland, his daughter Rebecca - who is married to the British actor Daniel Day-Lewis - and his grandchildren.

"Mr Miller passed away at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, last night (Thursday) at 9.17pm of congenital heart failure," said Julia Bolus, Miller's assistant.

The actor Brian Dennehy, who won a Tony award for his portrayal of Willy Loman in a revival of 'Death of a Salesman', said: "The whole thing about Arthur's life is that you do the best you can. You take the time you're having and you use it as creatively, and as positively and as powerfully as you can. He had a wonderful sense of humour, a very funny guy with this tremendous appetite and we're all going to miss him."

The British playwright, David Hare, said: "Arthur Miller was the last of the three great theatrical voices of the American century - Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Miller.

"Arthur's special achievement was to make political and social plays which belonged on Broadway and yet were also powered to reach out into America and way beyond."

Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, said: "I have no doubt that plays like 'Death Of A Salesman', 'The Crucible' and 'A View From The Bridge' will always stand with the masterpieces of Ibsen, Shakespeare and Sophocles."

Kevin Spacey, the double Oscar-winning actor and artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London, said: "The theatre community has lost one of the great playwrights of all time.

"Playing the role of George in a school productions of 'All My Sons' - at the age of 17 - was the defining experience that made me decide to become an actor."

Rumours last month that Miller was having health problems coincided with talk that the thrice-married writer was preparing to marry Miss Barley.

The couple met in 2002 at a dinner with mutual friends, several months after the death of Miller's third wife, Inge Morath, after a 40-year-marriage. Miss Barley - who admitted later she had been surprised to discover Miller was still alive - said there was "a sparkle between us" from the moment they met.

But a friend said yesterday: "She was very conscious of the absurdity of their age difference. But he was also so lively, he never gave the impression of being about to drop dead at any minute.

"Agnes was aware he was going to die long before her. She would say, 'I'm always nervous of the pain I'm going to feel but if I can spend a few years with him, that will be great'."

Friends say she confirmed there was no sex in their relationship although they lived together, spending most of their time at the 350-acre Connecticut estate.

Miller's fame was compounded in 1956 when he married Marilyn Monroe. They divorced after five years. Years later, he called her "highly self-destructive", adding that during their marriage, "all my energy and attention was devoted to trying to help her solve her problems. Unfortunately, I didn't have much success."