Film director and restaurant critic Michael Winner has died, his wife Geraldine said today.

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Winner, known for films such as Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson, and detective film The Big Sleep, recently finished his weekly Sunday Times restaurant column because of his poor health.

The director, also known for his "calm down, dear" Esure advertisments, had been in hospital seven times over 2012. His immune system was weakened after contracting E-coli in 2011. His health had first taken a hit after he was nearly killed by the bacteria vibrio vulnificus, which he contracted after eating an oyster on holiday in Barbados.

In one of his last tweets, from October last year, Winner outlined his struggle with his health:

In the summer of last year, doctors told Winner he had between 18 months and two years to live. He died at his home in Kensington, London, on Monday.

"Michael was a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous," his wife said. "A light has gone out in my life."

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True original

Actor John Cleese paid tribute to his friend. "I have just heard the very sad news about Michael, he said in a statement. "He was the dearest, kindest, funniest and most generous of friends. I shall miss him terribly."

Journalist and family friend Rod Gilchrist described Winner as "one of the most extraordinary people you could ever meet".

"He was one of the last of the great Hollywood showmen," he said. "Given to extravagant gestures, he lived life at 100mph. He could by turns be incredibly generous, funny, playful and kind, while at the same time Mr Winner made a formidable adversary.

"With friends he was very loyal, supporting many financially through times of hardship."

Simon Cowell said in a statement: "I'm very sad to hear about Michael passing away. He's become a very good friend over the years and someone whose company I have always really enjoyed.

"Laughter was never far away when Michael was around and he is someone who the more I got to know, the fonder I got of him. I am sure there are a lot of other people who, like me, will really miss him."

Condolences emerged on Twitter shortly after the announcement of Winner's death. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted that "true originals come rarely", whilst BBC political journalist Andrew Neil wrote that Winner was "one of life's great characters".

Piers Morgan described the bon vivant as "hilarious, often prepsoterous, always generous, highly intelligent". Radio DJ Danny Baker wrote that Winner was "a funny man who twinkled" and a "proper old rascal".

Films and food

Born in Hampstead in 1935, Winner was educated at Cambridge University before starting his career at the BBC. Over the course of his 50-year film career he made more than 30 films - and worked with a host of stars including Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum and Faye Dunaway.

He made the Hollywod blockbuster Death Wish with Charles Bronson in 1974 - turning Bronson into a movie superstar.

Michael Winner, who has died following an illness, in his directing heyday (picture: Getty)

For 19 years he wrote the "Winner's Dinners" food column for the Sunday Times. He founded and funded the Police Memorial Trust following the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

Steve Lloyd, trust manager and vice-chairman of the Police Roll of Honour Trust, said: "Michael had been ill for some time, but this is still a sad loss.

"Michael was a keen supporter of police charities and in particular was the founder of the project that let to the National Police Memorial being placed in the Mall in London.

"There is no doubt that Michael's work will be continued and we at the Trust pass on our sympathies to his family at this sad time. The work he did on behalf of the policing family brought a lot of comfort to those he recognised."

In 2006 he was offered an OBE for his charitable work but turned it down.

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