The death was confirmed in a post on the website for ITV
, the UK network that airs the show.
"There are no words to describe the sense of grief we feel at Anne's passing," executive producer Kieran Roberts said in the post. "We know only too acutely how much Anne meant to the millions of people who watched her create the legendary character of Deirdre Barlow."
Kirkbride first showed up on "Coronation Street," the world's longest-running soap opera
, in 1972 as a teenager with a handful of lines. Within a few years, she had entered into a short-lived marriage with one character and then a romance and marriage with another, Ken Barlow (William Roache, who'd been on the show since its inception in 1960).
The latter proved to be as big in Britain as the Luke-and-Laura storyline on "General Hospital" in the United States. According to the Guardian
, at one point, the scoreboard at a Manchester United game informed a stadium full of fans that "Deirdre and Ken united again!"
The raspy-voiced character -- Kirkbride had a long smoking habit -- was Kirkbride's main claim to fame, though she started in the theater and was first noticed in another program, a 1972 filmed play called "Another Sunday and Sweet F.A." Intensely private, she once told the Guardian's Anthony Hayward that she was perfectly happy with staying true to "Coronation Street."
"I just enjoy having something to do that's good, something that's interesting and gives me a lot of scope," she said. "I wouldn't be here if I wanted to perform Shakespeare."
Kirkbride was a survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma -- she lost her hair and acted in a wig for a time -- and talked about her depression in a 2012 documentary, "Deirdre & Me: 40 Years on Coronation Street." She was also an accomplished painter.
She is survived by her husband, actor David Beckett.