April 30, 1947
June 15, 2018
Though plagued by legal problems at various times during his career, rugged British actor Leslie Grantham also enjoyed significant fame as "Dirty" Den Watts, one of the most popular villains on the long-running soap opera "EastEnders" (BBC One, 1985- ). Born Leslie Michael Grantham on April 30, 1947 in Camberwell, a district in South London, England, he had expressed interesting performing from an early age, but pursued sports throughout his school years before joining the Royal Fusiliers regiment of the British Army at the age of 18. One year later, while stationed in West Germany, Grantham killed a taxi driver during an attempted robbery. Though he declared that he did not know that his gun was loaded and had gone off by accident, Grantham was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in a variety of British prisons, per the country's law regarding soldiers and officers convicted of crimes while in active duty. While serving his sentence, Grantham appeared in several stage productions for inmates, which helped to revive his interest in acting; upon his release in 1977, Grantham decided to pursue a career in performing, and studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. Roles on stage preceded his television debut on a 1982 episode of "BBC2 Playhouse" (1973-1983), but his big break would come two years later with a turn as a villainous henchman "Resurrection of the Daleks," a 1984 serial for "Doctor Who" (BBC, 1963- ). The serial's director, Matthew Robinson, recommended Grantham for the role of Den Watts on the soap opera "EastEnders." The owner of the Queen Victoria pub, which served as the hub of dramatic action for the series, Den was a world-class heel who carried out numerous affairs while engaged in a disastrous marriage to his wife, Angie (Anita Dobson), which earned the character the nickname "Dirty Den" in English tabloids. Their on-screen battles drew huge audience numbers, culminating in a 1986 Christmas Day episode where he served Angie with divorce papers that was seen by 30.15 million viewers, or more than half the population of the United Kingdom. When Grantham decided to leave "EastEnders" shortly after Dobson's departure in 1989, producers used Den's connection to a crime organization to kill him off, though the character was never confirmed dead in hopes that Grantham might return to the series at a later date. He worked steadily on television over the next decade, co-starring with Dobson in a crime drama called "The Stretch" (Sky One, 2000 and producing as well as starring in the paranormal series "The Uninvited" (ITV, 1997). In 2003, he decided to reprise his role as Den on "EastEnders," which again drew huge ratings to the series, but his return was short-lived: photographs of Grantham exposing himself and masturbating on a webcam were published in the British press, which prompted the producers to kill off Den for good in 2004. After publicly apologizing for his behavior, Grantham remained active on stage and television, including a recurring role as a prisoner on the long-running police drama "The Bill" (ITV, 1984-2010) and supporting turns in the British crime films "John Southeast" and "The Krays: Dead Man Walking" (both 2018). That same year, Grantham returned to England after a lengthy stay in Bulgaria, where he starred in a television series called "The English Neighbor." His health had declined due to an undisclosed medical condition to which Grantham succumbed on June 15, 2018 at the age of 71. His passing was honored with a title card tribute featured at the conclusion of the "EastEnders" episode that aired that day.