UNDERWORLD legend Ronnie Knight has died 89, The Sun can reveal.
The former husband of Barbara Windsor passed away on Monday in a nursing home in Cambridgeshire.
He had battled with Parkinson’s disease for the last few years of his life.
One family friend said: “His condition had deteriorated over the last few weeks. He got pneumonia and never recovered.”
Three-times wed and divorced Knight had been supported by his third ex-wife Sue Haylock during his illness.
The friend said: “Sue was a tower of strength for Ronnie.
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“A lot of people are going to be a upset to hear the news about his death. He was a rogue – but a very loveable one.”
Knight was part of the gang who carried out the £6 million Security Express heist in 1983 – then a record for cash stolen in a robbery.
The East End villain went on the run to Spain, becoming one of the so-called ‘Famous Five’ crooks wanted for the Security Express robbery who holed up on the Costa del Sol.
Knight eventually returned to Britain on a private plane with The Sun and was jailed for seven years for handling robbery proceeds – but not convicted for the heist itself.
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Before that, in 1980 Knight was acquitted of murdering ‘Italian Tony’ Zomparelli at the Old Bailey with gangland hitman Nicky Gerard.
The 1974 murder of Zomparelli was carried out in revenge for him stabbing Knight’s younger brother David to death four years earlier.
Despite being acquitted of the murder, Knight later wrote in a book that he had paid Gerard to carry out the murder as payback for the killing of his younger brother.
The gangster was born into a crime family in Hoxton, east London, with his brothers Johnny and James introducing him to the local underworld.
He started out running Tin Pan Alley and the nearby Artistes and Repertoire Club on Charing Cross Road – two of most notorious gangland watering holes of the time.
Remembering one Soho party, he later wrote of "Noel Coward, tinkling away on the ivories for all he was worth, Roger Moore drawing the girls like horseflies to a cow-pat."
Knight eagerly welcomed showbiz stars to the clubs – and left his wife June to marry the young Barbara Windsor.
The club boss said that when he first met Windsor, he "fancied her so much my front teeth ached".
He had a side hustle in Soho pool tables and peep shows – before his life changed forever in 1970 when his younger brother David was beaten up in an Islington pub.
When the Knight brothers confronted the men who attacked David in a gangland showdown, Alfredo "Italian Tony" Zomparelli stabbed David to death.
Zomparelli pleaded self-defence and was jailed for four years – but was shot dead soon after his release in Soho's Golden Goose arcade.
Knight stood trial for Zomparelli's murder after the hitman George Bradshaw claimed the nightclub boss had paid him £1,000 to kill David's killer.
But Knight was acquitted, with Windsor standing by him at the trial.
The gangster revealed in 1998 that he had hired hitman Nicky Gerard to kill Zomparelli – but could not be tried again under double jeopardy rules, and later denied involvement once again.
COSTA DEL CRIME
Sensing that his luck was running out in Soho, in 1975 Knight built a bolt-hole in Fuengirola, Spain.
He fled there as a fugitive in January 1984, on the night his brother John was arrested following the armed robbery of almost £6million from a Security Express depot in Shoreditch.
John was jailed for 22 years, with Knight's brother James serving eight years for handling stolen money alongside gang members Freddie Foreman and Cliford Saxe.
Knight married Sue Haylock in 1987 after he and Windsor divorced, and ran an Indian restaurant named Mumtaz and the violent nightclub RKnights during his long exile.
But his stash of money gradually ran out, and in 1994 he chose to return to Britain to face justice for his role in the Security Express heist.
He denied involvement in the robbery, but pleaded guilty to handling the stolen bank notes.
Knight was released from prison on parole after three years and later led a quiet life in Cambridge.
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Preferring to be called a "loveable rascal" rather than a gangster, Knight said: "Call me a convicted receiver of purloined goods, a baddie, a charmer or what you like.
"But armed robbery, real villainy, is not my scene."
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