Ronnie Corbett needed round-the-clock care and some days only managed to eat a few pieces of fruit, a single sweet and drink a glass of champagne, his wife said.
The comedian died on Thursday aged 85 having been diagnosed with a suspected form of motor neurone disease.
Corbett’s wife of more than 50 years, Anne Hart, told family friend Michael Thornton that her husband “never once grumbled or complained” throughout his illness.
Mr Thornton said she told him: “No-one could have been more courageous.” Corbett’s illness began at around Christmas 2014, at a time when Anne said he “started to feel unwell and found it hard to breathe and to lie down”.
Recalling the moment the doctor diagnosed Corbett, she said they were told it was most likely to be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known in the UK as motor neurone disease.
She told Mr Thornton it “knocked us both back”, and if it had not been for Stephen Hawking – who suffers from the disease – and the Eddie Redmayne film about him, The Theory Of Everything, they would not have heard of it at all.
Talking about caring for Corbett, Anne said: “It became a 24-hour job, with Ron getting gradually weaker. He was not in pain, and up to the last 48 hours, he was fully conscious and aware of everything.” Mr Thornton said it became harder to get the comedian to eat anything, adding that Anne told him: “Some days all he managed was a few pieces of melon, a glass of champagne, and a Liquorice Allsort. His weight dropped drastically and he simply began to fade away.
“But I would like people to know about the machine that kept him alive. It is called ResMed, a ventilator which helps people to breathe. Without that we would have lost him much sooner.”
Anne told Mr Thornton: “Ron wasn’t just my husband, and the love of my life. He was also my best friend.”