She's the flame-haired Aussie acting icon adored for playing some of TV's feistiest characters, but it was in her final months battling cancer that Cornelia Frances really showed her toughest side.
"Mum's specialists were stunned by her fighting spirit. She went into palliative care in February, before passing away peacefully last Monday around midday," Cornelia's devoted son Lawrence Eastland tells Woman's Day.
"I was by her side, holding her hand when she took her last breath. She slipped away in her sleep. It was serene. There was no pain. I feel relieved that Mum is finally at peace."
The past few years have been tough for Lawrence, 46, who gave up his graphic design work in Byron Bay to hold vigil at his mother's Sydney bedside after she was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2016.
"When she first told me, I broke down in tears," says Lawrence, whose father, Cornelia's former husband Michael Eastland, died of cancer just four years before.
She underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but the cancer spread.
"We kept hoping for a miracle and, I guess, that miracle was the extra time we had together. I'm so grateful for that blessing," he adds.
"Despite the pain, Mum never complained. She was so classy right up until the end."
British-born Cornelia moved here in the '70s and soon found fame as acerbic Sister Scott on The Young Doctors.
Then came scheming Barbara Hamilton on Sons And Daughters, followed by a 29-year stint as vinegary Morag Bellingham on Home And Away.
"Mum was renowned for playing tough-as-granite bitches on stage and screen. She said they were the best roles, so much fun to play," says Lawrence.
"But she was nothing like her villainous alter egos. She was kind, generous and funny. She loved hosting dinner parties and was a sensational cook.
"Little known fact: Mum holds the record for having, possibly, the shortest career as a TV newsreader. She used to delight in telling how, in 1967, she was offered a job reading the news in Perth."
"She was live to air and was supposed to flick a switch to cut off her voice during commercial breaks. She forgot and mouthed off with some expletives about being nervous. Viewers heard the lot and she was fired on the first night," laughs Lawrence.
Cornelia also delighted in being a grandma to Lawrence's 17-year-old daughter Tipani.
"When Tipani was born, her eyes lit up. She always had so much love to give, which is why she was so loved in return," he says.
"The outpouring from friends and fans since her death has been hugely comforting. Mum would have felt very humbled by so many kind words."
Peers were quick to share their memories of the actress, many posting heartfelt tributes online.
Alongside a portrait of the star, Georgie Parker wrote, "Cornelia, you truly are one in a million. You were a great actress, Mother and friend to many. We will all miss you dearly."
Paula Duncan said, "I loved her with every fibre of my being. She was just the most special person. When I was just starting out on The Young Doctors, Corney was so caring… I haven't stopped crying."
Lawrence says even in her last days, Cornelia kept smiling despite the dire situation.
"She barely ate, but she loved a cheeky glass of her beloved Mumm champagne," he says, adding that in her final months, friends such as Judy Nunn, The Sullivans actor Andrew McFarlane and Home And Away's Ray Meagher frequently visited her bedside.
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"For her 77th birthday in April, we invited 15 friends to party around her bed. She certainly wasn't going to miss out on her own birthday bash! Mum cherished her friends – and she wasn't going to let cancer get in the way of a good time!"
Cornelia was sent off at a private funeral last Thursday, with friends swapping outrageous stories of a life lived large.
Lawrence says what he'll miss most about his mother is her smile, her generosity of spirit and her sparkling sense of humour.
"Mum was my best friend, we had no secrets. I was so proud of her. I'm keeping a candle burning in her honour.
"And," he adds, "I know she'll be looking ahead to her next incredible adventure – with a champagne flute in hand."
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