Stars have been paying tribute to Pete Postlethwaite, who died during the weekend, with ex-girlfriend Julie Walters saying he was ‘the most exciting, exhilarating actor of his generation’.

Walters, who began her career by touring pubs in a theatre group with then-boyfriend Postlethwaite, said: “He invented edgy. He was an exhilarating person and actor.”

BBC News Online reports that she agreed with Steven Spielberg when he described Postlethwaite as ‘the best actor in the world’.

“I saw him in Coriolanus and it was the most terrifying, wonderful performance I have ever seen. The audience were privileged to see it,” she said.

Stephen Fry, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter: “The loss of the great Pete Postlethwaite is a very sad way to begin a year.”

Actor Simon Pegg said on Twitter that Postlethwaite was ‘one of our finest actors’, adding that he ‘first saw him at the RSC in 1986 – owned the stage he did’.

Even former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott, also writing on Twitter, said the actor’s films Brassed Off and Age of Stupid ‘had a real effect on me and our government’.

The actor, who was born in Warrington, Cheshire, began his career at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in the 1970s, working with Walters and other future stars including Alison Steadman, Bill Nighy and Alan Bleasdale.

Nighy has paid tribute to ‘a rare and remarkable man’.

“I was honoured by his friendship – he is irreplaceable,” he added.