10/03/2017 12:32 PM AEDT | Updated 10/03/2017 6:20 PM AEDT

Cartoonist Bill Leak Dead At 61

The Australian veteran suffered a suspected heart attack.


Cartoonist Bill Leak has died of a suspected heart attack.

Leak, 61, died on Friday morning in Gosford Hospital, The Australian reported.

"We will miss him dreadfully and our hearts go out to his wife Goong, his stepdaughter Tasha and his sons Johannes and Jasper," The Australian's Editor-in-Chief Paul Whittaker said.

"(He was) a giant in his field of cartooning and portraiture and a towering figure for more than two decades."

Leak was known for his highly controversial cartoons -- including one that depicted an aboriginal father, beer can in hand, asking a policeman what his own son's name was.

He was also a vocal opponent of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act and was last year accused of being racist over the cartoon.

Bill Leak
This cartoon sparked a national conversation about racial discrimination laws and freedom of speech.

"I think 18C is an abomination. Look, I can only assume that a lot of people genuinely believe that freedom of speech means the legal right to hurl abuse. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth," he told the ABC in October last year.

"Freedom of speech is what created our civil and free society. It is all about the exchange of ideas, about letting people express their views in the marketplace of ideas."

The Australian journalism community on Friday paid tribute, to Leak's career, during which he won nine Walkley Awards, the industry's most prestigious honour.

Leak had just recently released his book, Trigger Warning: Deplorable Cartoons By Bill Leak.