John first joined the soap in 1996, and became a series regular in 1999. His character was written out of the show in 2011, due to the ill health of the actor, who had suffered a serious stroke years earlier.
The sad news of his death was announced in a blog post on the ‘EastEnders’ website, which read: “Everyone at EastEnders is absolutely heartbroken to learn that John has sadly passed away. His bravery, dignity and courage in battling against the devastating effects of his stroke were admired by all who had the privilege of working with him.
“Loved by us all, John was an exceptionally talented actor whose humour, mischievousness and brilliant performances made Jim Branning one of Walford’s most loveable, memorable characters and we will miss John forever.”
His co-star June Brown, who played opposite him for a number of years, has also paid her respects, saying: “I am so sorry that John has passed away but hope that he is now at peace after seven difficult years.
“I shall miss him very much as I loved him dearly. My thoughts are with his devoted wife, Enda.”
In addition to his work in ‘EastEnders’, John was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 1988, for his role in the stage show, ‘Kiss Me, Kate’. He also had minor roles in ‘Birds of a Feather’, ‘Coronation Street’ and the film, ‘East Is East’.
He is survived by his wife, Enda Gates, whom he married in 2002.