The legendary Jimmy Corkhill actor previously spoke candidly about his prostate cancer diagnosis after being diagnosed five years ago.
On Thursday, a statement given from Hamilton Management and his family read: "To millions he was and very much still is remembered as 'Jimmy', to family and friends he was 'Dino'. Dean's family wants to thank Arrowe Park Hospital for their unwavering and consistent support. We ask that you respect their privacy in their time of grief."
Dean's cause of death has not yet been confirmed.
As New Year’s Eves go, December 31, 2018, wasn’t the most enjoyable of Dean Sullivan’s life. The 64-year-old legendary actor found himself at Clatterbridge Hospital on The Wirral having small rods inserted into his prostate.
Only months earlier, in May 2018, Dean – who is best known for playing loveable rogue Jimmy Corkhill in popular Channel 4 soap Brookside – had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and opted for HDR (high dose rate) brachytherapy to treat the disease. This involves having thin tubes inserted into the gland before targeted radiation is passed down them to pinpoint and kill cancer cells.
He said: "It was a bit uncomfortable, but you put up with it. I was back at home in a couple of hours and didn’t dwell on it – it was an essential part of my cancer journey. I then met up with friends locally to see in the New Year... wearing a kilt…"
It was in March 2018 that Dean first became aware that something might not be right. "I’d noticed when I was going to the loo that my stream wasn’t as strong as it used to be.
"I used to joke I would be able to pee over a wall it was so strong. I never imagined it was something to do with my prostate though because I didn’t have any of the other symptoms, such as going to the toilet several times in the night."
Dean visited his local surgery where a locum doctor told him he didn’t think there was anything to investigate. "Thankfully, when nothing had improved two months later, Dean decided to return to the practice.
"It is a bit like when you can feel you’re getting a cold. Everyone knows their own body, so when there is something not sitting right, you just know," he explains. "My stream was so different to how it had been and I knew that wasn’t how it should be.
"Sometimes people think they’re bothering the doctor unnecessarily and that doctors are always right, so if they’ve said it’s nothing, it’s nothing. But doctors aren’t always right so we shouldn’t be embarrassed to go back." Dean’s persistence may have saved his life.
"The second time I went I saw my own GP and he gave me a digital rectal examination there and then," he says. "That was a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit undignified, but it was all over and done with in less than 30 seconds."
The examination revealed that Dean’s prostate was enlarged, so he was sent for a blood test. This found his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level was raised – which can be a sign of prostate cancer – and he was referred for a biopsy. The news wasn’t good.
"I remember being a bit shell shocked really, because even though we know these days that one in three of us will be diagnosed with cancer of some sort, you never think it will be you." As a single man, Dean, who lives in Merseyside, didn’t have anyone at home waiting to hear his results and he didn’t immediately share the news with friends.
"I sat on it for a while really," he says, chuckling at the black humour in his unintentional pun. "Not because I was pondering what was coming next, but because I’m not really someone who would go around enticing or eliciting support from friends."
In the end, he decided to keep the news to a few family members and friends, in particular ‘the Four Ss’ – Sue, Suzy, Suzanne and Sandy –who supported him throughout his treatment. "You’re the one living with it and dealing with it and my way of dealing with it was not to let it be a major part of my life," explains Dean, who directed The Importance Of Being Earnest in Liverpool this summer.
“Also, there’s the situation when you think ‘I don’t want to tell this story again’, so only my closest family and friends knew. It was one of those when I thought ‘just get on with it and what will be will be’.” An MRI was ordered to discover whether the cancer had spread to Dean’s bones. He was sitting on a beach in Skiathos when the results came.
"Usually I have my phone off when I’m on holiday but for some reason I hadn’t this time," he recalls. "The phone rang and it was the oncology nurse who said, 'Gosh, you’re a very difficult man to get hold of!'
"Then she revealed the scan had shown everything was fine, the cancer cells hadn’t gone anywhere else. "It made my holiday even better – my friends and I were all cheering then when I hung up."
Dean’s brachytherapy was followed by 20 rounds of radiotherapy last January, given five times a week over four weeks. "I cannot praise the staff enough," he says of his treatment at Clatterbridge.
"They were lovely. The process wasn’t uncomfortable, painful or distressing. It made me tired but it was one of those things I knew I had to go through for a few weeks and it was done in no time."
Dean learned his treatment had been a success at the end of April this year, 10 weeks after the radiotherapy had finished, and in October further blood tests allowed his consultant to give him the all-clear. His PSA level had been reduced from 18.9 to 0.3.
"It was such a relief, so wonderful to hear," he says. "I thanked the Lord for looking after me and for all the people who had said prayers for me." As testosterone can make prostate cancer cells grow more quickly, patients are often given hormone therapy to stop the body making testosterone.
"Even though my last PSA level was so low, I still have to have a hormone injection every six months for three years, which gives me the best chance that the cancer won’t come back," Dean explains. "There are side effects including hot flushes and night sweats, which my female friends refer to as the ‘male menopause’. I’ve also lost body hair, which feels a bit emasculating, but it’s a small price to pay for being cancer-free.”
In December, 2018 while awaiting treatment, Dean attended Prostate Cancer UK’s Carols at St George’s as a guest reader and only a couple of people knew about his diagnosis. "I needed to get my own head together and go on my own journey before I was ready to talk publicly about it," he explains.
This year, now clear of cancer, Dean is honoured to be returning as the concert’s host to help raise funds. "The treatment is so excellent but you have to get it early," he says. "It’s important to act if you think there might be something not right, especially if you’re a man of a certain age."
Talk to Prostate Cancer UK’s Specialist Nurses in confidence on 0800 074 8383 or online via Live Chat (prostatecanceruk.org).