Former football star George Best has died in hospital at the age of 59 after suffering multiple organ failure.

Best, who was admitted eight weeks ago with flu-like symptoms, died at 1255 GMT. London’s Cromwell Hospital said it ended “a long and very valiant fight”.

Son Calum, 24, who had kept a bedside vigil, said: “Not only have I lost my Dad… we’ve all lost a wonderful man.”

The ex-Manchester United and Northern Ireland star is to be buried in Belfast beside his mother, Ann, late next week.

Best’s father Dickie, 87, who was among relatives at his bedside overnight, asked for the family to be left to grieve in peace.

Best’s sister, Barbara McNarry, said: “To the thousands upon thousands of people who have sent cards and e-mails, we have taken great comfort from them, especially during the long hours.”

The family later viewed the many flowers and messages left by fans outside Cromwell Hospital.

Best is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to have graced British and world football.

His heyday occurred during the 1960s, when he brought a pop star image to the game.

Asked later what happened to the money he had earned, Best replied: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

A statement released by Best’s second wife, Alex, said: “George was the love of my life. He was a unique and talented person who made a lot of people very happy.”

Prime Minister Tony Blair led tributes to the man he called “probably the most naturally gifted footballer of his generation, one of the greatest footballers the UK has ever produced”.

“Anyone who has seen him as a football fan will never forget it,” Mr Blair said from the Commonwealth Head of Governments meeting in Malta.

Republic of Ireland Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: “George should be remembered as the very best at what he did. He was quite simply a football genius.”

Sir Bobby Charlton said his former Manchester United team-mate “made an immense contribution to the game, and enriched the lives of everyone that saw him play”.

“Football has lost one of its greats, and I have lost a dear friend. He was a marvellous person.”

A statement from the club said: “For the goals, the audacious dribbles and all the wonderful memories, Manchester United and its legions of fans worldwide will always be grateful.”

A minute silence is to be observed at every Premiership football match this weekend in Best’s memory.

He had been in hospital since entering with flu-like symptoms on 1 October, later suffering a kidney infection.

His condition deteriorated sharply last Friday with the development of a lung infection that led to internal bleeding.

Best, a recovering alcoholic, was particularly susceptible to infection because of medicines he needed after a 2002 liver transplant.

The Belfast-born former footballer and television pundit had been prescribed medication to suppress the immune system and prevent his body rejecting the new liver.

At the time of his hospital admission in October, Best’s agent Phil Hughes said his client had been “off the drink” before being admitted to the hospital.

Dr Akeel Alisa, part of the medical team which had been treating Best, described him as “delightful to look after – he was very brave, a fighter to the end”.

Best helped Manchester United win the First Division title in 1965 and 1967 and the European Cup in 1968.

His role in the team’s success was recognised by his becoming the European Footballer of the Year in 1968.

Best made 466 appearances for the Old Trafford club, scoring a total of 178 goals. He had a short spell at Fulham alongside Bobby Moore and Rodney Marsh before moving to America.

He also won 37 caps – scoring nine goals – for Northern Ireland.