The late, great Jimmy Ellis has been described as courageous, a "trailblazer" and above all an inspiration to Northern Ireland actors. He passed away on Saturday 8 March at the age of 82 after a two-week illness.
His health had been failing for some time but he still managed to attend the opening night of Love, Billy at the Lyric Theatre on 1 May last year – much to the delight of the cast.
As well as earning fame from Z-Cars, Jimmy Ellis was well-known for his role as the violent and troubled, Norman Martin in the BBC Billy plays from the 1980s.
The excitement had been building after the Lyric commissioned Graham Reid to write a fifth instalment of the successful plays, Love, Billy.
Tracey Lynch was the only original cast member in the stage play, reprising her role as the twin Ann Martin. The series made her a household name at the tender age of 10 and in Love, Billy, which picked up the story 25 years, on she played the grown-up daughter.
Strabane actor George Shane had the daunting task of filling Jimmy Ellis’ shoes as the now elderly Norman.
So there was much delight, nerves and extra pressure when Jimmy accepted the invitation to the opening. However, the new cast need not have worried. As soon as the curtain fell on the premiere, Jimmy insisted on being taken back stage to congratulate the cast for a job well done. He was also very impressed with the new theatre which he’d last seen when it was under construction.
Actor friends who happened to be playing on two of the Lyric’s stages last Saturday night (8 March) led moving tributes to Jimmy. Des McAleer in Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Frankie McCafferty in Molly Sweeney in the Naughton Studio. As the tributes flow in, it is clear he will be greatly missed.
Photos of Jimmy Ellis from Love, Billy opening on 1 May 2013