An actor who won fans with appearances in hit films like Gladiator and soaps such as Coronation Street died because he was exposed to asbestos while working at a Black Country engineering firm in his teens, an inquest heard.

David Nicholls died from mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the external lining of the lungs, a coroner ruled yesterday.

The 58-year-old, who was born in Tipton, was exposed to asbestos while working at a Beans Industries factory in the town. His family paid tribute to the star, and said the verdict ends months of waiting to discover what caused his untimely death in June of this year.

Mr Nicholls was a larger-than-life character and his stage presence was well-known particularly because of his distinctive 6ft 5in height.

He had roles in films such as Gladiator and Gangs of New York, as well as parts in television soaps including Emmerdale and Coronation Street.

Long-term partner Julie Connor said: “We are all just glad that we finally have some answers about his death.

“David was such a talented man, and his many television and film appearances are a legacy that we will all treasure forever and I am sure will provide comfort during the difficult times ahead.”

Speaking on the verdict, his family’s solicitor, Ian Bailey, of law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “Julie and her three sons have been devastated by the death of a very loving partner and father but are relieved to finally understand the circumstances surrounding his death.

“It has not come as a shock that David’s tragic death was caused by mesothelioma which is likely to be a direct result of exposure to asbestos in his younger years. The family intend to pursue legal action against the insurance company appointed by his employer at the time he was exposed to this deadly substance.

“David was cut down in the prime of his life, just when he was enjoying the benefits of a successful acting career with his family. Sadly, his death illustrates the growing trend of asbestos-related deaths that are a result of deadly working conditions that existed in the UK for years during the 60s and 70s.

“Little was done about it and now people are dying as a result of both direct and indirect exposure up to 50 years later.”

Paying tribute to the popular actor, he added: “David was extremely passionate about raising the profile of this deadly disease to the public - he made a very emotional speech at the National Action mesothelioma Day at Leeds Town Hall in February this year.”

Mr Nicholls lived in Armley, near Leeds, and leaves behind his long-term partner Julie Connor and three sons Jai, James and Sam.