One of Northern Ireland's most popular and versatile actors, BJ Hogg - who starred in a huge number of movies and TV shows, ranging from Give My Head Peace to Game of Thrones - died yesterday on his 65th birthday.
The shock news of his passing was announced on Facebook by his cousin Barry Hall.
He said BJ, who married his costume designer wife Elish in 1981, had been found dead after falling ill at their home early yesterday morning.
The cause of death isn't known yet, but there were no early indications that it was related to coronavirus.
Dozens of friends and colleagues posted online tributes to the versatile actor only hours after wishing him well on his birthday. Several people said they only learned of BJ's death when they went online to pass on their greetings.
Game of Thrones actor Ian Beattie said: "I texted BJ yesterday morning and I've been devastated by the news of his death. He was not only an incredibly talented actor but he was also a wonderful human being, a gentleman."
Sources said BJ had been in "great form" on Wednesday and had visited a close friend at his home, maintaining a social distance because of the coronavirus pandemic.
BJ - whose full name was William Henry Brian Hogg - brought smiles to thousands of TV viewers with his portrayal of 'Big Mervyn' the lovably-dim leather-clad loyalist in 73 episodes of Give My Head Peace.
Fellow cast members were distraught yesterday. Paddy Jenkins, who plays Pastor Begbie and who also acted in the Ulster Scots musical On Eagle's Wing with BJ, fought back tears as he spoke about his friend.
He said: "BJ was one of the most genuine, caring and kind people on the planet. He was a brilliant musician and actor, a master of comedy who would have you laughing one minute and crying your eyes out the next in a serious role."
Olivia Nash, who plays Ma in the hit comedy, said she was heartbroken to hear of BJ's death, adding: "He was a delight to work with and our Give My Head Peace family will be diminished by his loss."
Dan Gordon, who plays Red Hand Luke, was among other actors from the series who posted heartfelt tributes on Facebook.
Father-of-two and grandfather BJ has two sisters, one of them his twin. He had worked with the Hole in the Wall gang since the early 1980s, having started on the late night BBC programme The Show.
Educated in Lisburn, BJ originally trained to be a chef but stopped working in hotels after two of them were bombed while he was on duty. He spent several years as a musician in showbands before turning to acting.
He never looked back, working in the Arts and Lyric theatres in Northern Ireland as well as in London and in Moscow, where he was once the only European actor to be invited to play with an all-Russian cast in a Russian play.
BJ also established himself as a much sought-after actor on screen. He starred in the Oscar nominated locally produced short film Dance Lexie Dance and was in a raft of other TV series and films shot in Northern Ireland. These included Game of Thrones, Hunger, Frankenstein Chronicles, City of Ember, Closing the Ring, directed by Richard Attenborough, and The Fall in which he memorably played Ian Kay, whose daughter was murdered by serial killer Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan.
BJ, who also directed productions and wrote screenplays, frequently posted messages on social media campaigning on a number of issues and supporting fellow actors who had lost their jobs as a result of coronavirus.
Earlier this year he expressed pride at being involved in a film, The Windermere Children, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
BJ's death is the second massive blow to the local acting world in recent days. The private funeral of renowned Belfast actress Roma Tomelty will take place later today.