COUNTDOWN STAR DIES TV presenter Richard Whiteley has died in hospital from a heart operation. The star of Countdown, aged 61, underwent the surgery to combat an infection that attacked a valve in his heart. He was taken into hospital in Leeds last month suffering from pneumonia. Whiteley had been the host of the letters and numbers gameshow since it began more than 20 years ago. He was the first person to appear on Channel 4 when it launched on November 2, 1982. When he was taken ill last month, he missed the first show in more than two decades. John Richard Whiteley OBE, was born on December 28, 1943 in Bradford. The jacket and ties he wore for Countdown had a reputation for their garishness. Whiteley loved anecdotes and puns, which were often met by groans from other presenters and members of the audience. He even made the big screen, in a cameo role in the Hugh Grant movie About a Boy. The Countdown star was nicknamed "Twice Nightly Whiteley" in reference to the time when he presented Yorkshire TV's Calendar News and Countdown in the same evening. In a self-deprecating joke, he often altered this to "Once Yearly, Nearly." He was one of the first journalists at the scene of the 1984 Brighton bombing, having been in Brighton's Grand Hotel at the time of the explosion. RIP I'll miss your ties and unfunny jokes.