Colleagues of the late actress Cherry Morris - who worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company and, most recently, at the National Theatre - have paid tribute to the woman they described as a great actress, a great company member and a great friend.

Morris was performing alongside Penelope Wilton and Deborah Findlay at the National in David Hare’s new version of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, directed by Howard Davies, when she was taken ill with cancer. She died on 21 July 2005, aged 79, just over a week before the show finished its repertory season in the NT Lyttelton on 30 July.

Toby Whale, head of casting at the National, said: “Cherry was ill at the matinee on 28 April, and then had to be in hospital after that, so sadly she missed the rest of the show’s run, which finished at the end of July.” She had previously appeared at the National in Howard Katz. Whale said: “Cherry was a fantastic actress and woman, respected by audiences and her peers equally.”

Morris joined the RSC for more than 20 plays, including Richard III, Night of the Soul, Tales from Ovid, The Family Reunion and The Merry Wives of Windsor. She also performed in The Crucible and Fen for Sheffield Crucible, and Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night at the Donmar Warehouse and in New York. On television, Morris appeared in Peak Practice, Casualty, Doctors, and Footballers' Wives. Her radio credits included Old Dog and Partridge and A Song for Edmond Shakespeare.

The RSC will be holding memorial services (dates to be confirmed) in London and Stratford for the actress, whose first play with the company was Romeo and Juliet directed by Peter Hall in 1961.

Current RSC artistic director Michael Boyd said: “Cherry was one of those actors whose lifetime of theatre-making was interwoven into the very fabric of the RSC. Her life force, extraordinary skill and generosity of spirit will be sorely missed.”

Boyd’s predecessor Adrian Noble added: “For Cherry, her faith, her art and her conduct were all of a piece, inseparable, almost indistinguishable, all bound together by a bounty of love and duty and talent. Authentic, emotionally charged, intelligent and clear as a bell. She was incapable of acting badly.” And RSC associate director Gregory Doran observed: “She was a great actress, a great company member, a great friend and we will miss her.”

Morris' agent, Maxine Hoffman, said: "She was a wonderful person and a superb actress who never stopped working, and I will miss her terribly."

- by Caroline Ansdell