Ben Cross, best known for his starring role in Chariots Of Fire, has died at the age of 72, following a short illness.

The actor played British Olympic athlete Harold Abrahams in the 1981 film, which won four Oscars including Best Picture.

News of his death was confirmed on Monday evening, with his representatives saying in a statement: “Ben passed away suddenly today following a short illness.

“He had just finished shooting The Devil’s Light for Lionsgate and later this year will be seen in Last Letter From Your Lover in a leading role.”

Ben Cross pictured in 2012

A post on his Facebook page, which said it was written by his daughter Lauren, said Ben had a “rapid decline” in the last week.

It said: “I am utterly heartbroken to share with you that my darling father died a few hours ago.

“He had been sick for a while but there was a rapid decline over the past week.

“The press will be announcing his death soon, I just wanted you all, his most loyal and loving fans, to hear it from us first.

“Thank you for all your support over the years. He really enjoyed interacting with you.”

Ben was born Harry Bernard Cross in London in 1947. 

In 1970, he was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada) aged 22, and after graduating from he appeared in a minor role in 1977’s A Bridge Too Far alongside Sir Sean Connery and Sir Michael Caine.

The same year he became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and performed in Privates On Parade.

He found wider success in 1978 appearing in the play Chicago as Billy Flynn, the lawyer representing murderer Roxie Hart.

That performance is widely believed to have earned him his role in Chariots Of Fire, which was based on the true story of two British men racing for Olympic gold in 1924.

Ben played British Olympic athlete Harold Abrahams in the 1981 film Chariots Of Fire

In the intervening years, he appeared as Malagant in 1995’s First Knight and Sarek in the 2009 Star Trek reboot.

James Bond star Colin Salmon, who worked on The Devil’s Light alongside Ben shortly before his death, was among who paid tribute.

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