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Keith Waterhouse attends the Oldie Of The Year Awards, March 18, 2003 in London. (Aura/Getty Images)

Keith Waterhouse, British writer of the popular novel Billy Liar, has died in his sleep. He was 80.

He passed away peacefully early Friday at his London home, four months after his retirement from the Daily Mail, where he was a columnist for nearly 25 years.

During his time at the Daily Mail he'd written more than 2,000 columns. Before that he was at the Daily Mirror for 35 years and contributed to Punch.

During his stellar career, Waterhouse wrote about 60 books, including 16 novels, plays, film scripts and TV series.

Billy Liar, a novel Waterhouse wrote in 1959, was his first major success. The story of a funeral parlour worker who indulges in fantasies to escape his drab existence in a fictional Yorkshire town became a 1963 film hit that starred Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie. The novel also later became a TV show.

Waterhouse's novels include Maggie Muggins (1982), Bimbo (1990), Unsweet Charity (1992), Soho (2001) and Palace Pier (2003).

Waterhouse wrote and produced the plays Mr and Mrs Nobody (1986) starring Judi Dench and Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (1989), starring Peter O'Toole.

He helped to write the satirical 1960s TV series That Was the Week That Was and The Frost Report.

In his working partnership with Willis Hall he produced distinctive class-conscious dramatic works in theatre, film and television. They wrote some of the best-known British films of the 1960s such as Whistle Down The Wind (1961), A Kind of Loving, West Eleven and Man In The Middle (all 1963) and Pretty Polly (1967).

When the Daily Mail broke the news of Waterhouse's retirement in May, editor Paul Dacre paid tribute to Waterhouse.

 "… He was a chronicler and brilliant observer of late 20th century life, whose characters became part of our national psyche," Dacre said.

"It has been a privilege for the last 23 years to have such a legendary writer as part of the Daily Mail story. He will be massively missed."

Waterhouse was born in 1929 into a working-class family in Leeds and he began his journalism career at the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Twice divorced, Waterhouse is survived by a son and a daughter.

with files from The Associated Press.