Australian actor Penny Cook, who appeared in numerous television series including A Country Practice, and over 40 theatre productions, has died of cancer at age 61.

Penny CookPenny Cook. Photograph courtesy of Morrissey Management

As well as having a high-profile television career, Cook did a huge amount to support Australian theatre. She was a co-founder and life member of Griffin Theatre Company, where she was last seen on stage in August 2018, in the play The Almighty Sometimes by Australian writer Kendall Feaver. She was also Chair of Monkey Baa Theatre Company, which creates work for young audiences.

Cook died on Wednesday night. A statement from her family, released by her agent Mark Morrissey, said: “It is with great sorrow that her family wish to advise that the much loved Penny Cook, beloved partner, mother, daughter, sister, and dear friend, died peacefully last night, of cancer, surrounded by family.”

“The family wish to express their thanks for all messages of condolence forwarded to them,” said the statement.

Cook graduated from NIDA in 1978. She first appeared on the small screen in The Restless Years for Network Ten. She then played probably her most famous TV role, vet Vicky Dean-Bowen, in A Country Practice for the Seven Network from 1981 to 1985, winning the first of many Logies in 1981. Her other television credits include Dance Academy, G.P. and Rake for the ABC; E-Street, Good Morning Australia and Neighbours for Network Ten; The Flying Doctors and Young Lions for the Nine Network; and All Saints, The Great Outdoors and Tonight Live with Steve Vizard for the Seven Network. Her most recent television role was Carol Little in the ABC hospital drama Pulse. She was last seen on the big screen in the Aussie comedy The Merger, released in August.

Cook also had a busy theatre career as both an actor and director, working for companies including Griffin, the Ensemble Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company and the Gordon Frost Organisation, among others.

Cook leaves behind her husband David Lynch and a daughter Poppy. She was previously married to broadcaster and writer Clive Robertson.

Following the news of her death, tributes flowed on social media. “Heartbroken. David and Poppy our thoughts are with you. One of the greats of Australian theatre and tv, the liveliest and loveliest of humans gone too soon,” said Griffin on Twitter.

“Vale, dear Penny. An incredible artist, an amazing supporter of the arts – especially children’s theatre – and an absolutely phenomenal human being,” said actor/writer Kate Mulvany in a Tweet.

The family asked people not to send flowers and gifts, but said that donations in her name could be made to Sydney’s Monkey Baa Theatre Company or Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

A private cremation will be held. A celebration of Cook’s life will also be held, with details to be announced at a later date.