Soap Opera Star Anna Karen Dies in Fire

Anna Karen, who starred in the British soap opera EastEnders, died on Tuesday. The 85-year-old actress died in a house fire in East London, her agent told BBC News. Karen's film and television career began in the 1960s, with her best-known role being Olive in the 1969-1973 sitcom On the Buses.

"She was a great actress, a great comedian, and a great soul," her agent, Shane Collins, told the BBC. The London Fire Brigade confirmed that a woman died in a house fire in Ilford, East London Tuesday night. Police said the fire does not appear suspicious as the investigation continues.

Karen was born in Durban, South Africa, and began performing on the stage there as a teenager. At 17, she moved to London to study at the London School of Dramatic Arts. After several small roles in films, she became a household name quickly when she was cast as Olive Rudge in On the Buses. She starred in all 74 episodes of the hit sitcom, which centered on the life of bus driver Stan Butler (Reg Varney) and his family. She also played Olive in the films On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972), and Holiday on the Buses (1973). In 1977 and 1978, she starred in the short-lived sequel series The Rag Trade.

In 1996, Karen was introduced to a new generation of viewers as Aunt Sal on EastEnders. She appeared in 57 episodes of the long-running soap opera from 1996 to 2017. "Anna created a sharp, quick-witted and extremely popular character in Aunt Sal that the audience will never forget, just as those who worked with her at EastEnders will never forget her warmth, kindness fun, and good humor," a spokesperson for the show said Wednesday. "Our love and thoughts are with Anna's family and friends."

While working on EastEnders, Karen became close friends with the late Dame Barbara Windsor, whose husband Scott Mitchell called Karen a "good friend." He said they last spoke just a few weeks ago. "Anna was one of three I asked to speak at Barbara's funeral. I will remember her straight-talking, great humor, and intelligence. May she rest in peace," Mitchell told the BBC.

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In 1967, Karen married actor Terry Duggan. They lived in Ilford, East London together until his death in 2008. Karen did not have children, but she raised Duggan's daughter from his first marriage, Gloria. Karen broke her back in a fall at home in 2016, and she wore a walking frame when she appeared on EastEnders that year. Her final public appearance was at Windsor's funeral in January 2021.