Actor Ben Cross, who was best known for playing athlete Harold Abrahams in the film Chariots of Fire, has died at the age of 72.

His representatives said he had died “suddenly” following a short illness.

Writing on his Facebook page, his daughter Lauren said she was “utterly heartbroken” that her “darling father” had died.

She said he had been “sick for a while” but there had been a “rapid decline over the past week”.

Cross, who died in Vienna, Austria, had two children, Lauren and Theo.

His representatives said he had just finishing shooting horror film The Devil’s Light and later this year will appear in a leading role in the romantic drama film Last Letter From Your Lover.

He was born Harry Bernard Cross in London to a working-class Catholic family.

British athlete Harold Abrahams, played by Ben Cross, wins the 100 Metres event at the Paris Olympics in a scene from Chariots Of Fire
Ben Cross as British athlete Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire

After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada), he moved from the stage to screen and took a minor role in the 1977 war film A Bridge Too Far, which starred Sir Sean Connery and Sir Michael Caine.

He became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the same year, before gaining wider acclaim as Billy Flynn – the lawyer representing murderer Roxie Hart – in a 1978 version of the stage musical Chicago.

It was a performance that was widely believed to have earned him his role in 1981’s Chariots Of Fire, which went on to win four Oscars including best picture.

Cross played Jewish runner Harold Abrahams in the film, which was based on the true story of two British men racing for Olympic gold in 1924.

BBC religion editor Martin Bashir said Cross’s portrayal of Abrahams had “captured the burden of being an outsider”.

He later appeared as Malagant in the 1995 film First Knight and Sarek in the 2009 Star Trek reboot.

Cross also appeared as Rudolf Hess in the 2006 BBC production Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial.

James Bond star Colin Salmon, who worked on The Devil’s Light alongside Cross, tweeted: “It was good working with him, seeing his twinkle & his craft.

“He wrote songs for the Sinatra of Bulgaria, had so many stories & spoke in Bulgarian and German on set. Go Well Ben RIP.”

US television and film director Todd Holland also shared a tribute, saying he had met Cross early in his own career.

“We shot a screen test at Pinewood Studios. I went to his home for dinner with his family,” he said.

“Ben Cross was a lovely man and talented actor. That movie never got made. But… what a classy guy.”