Charlie Gillett, a champion of world music on BBC Radio 3 and the World Service, has died aged 68 after a long illness.

His family confirmed to the BBC that he died Wednesday (March 17) in a London hospital. He contracted an autoimmune disease and suffered a heart attack last week.

Gillett stepped down from Radio 3's "World On 3" show two months ago for health reasons. The BBC said today (March 18) that the March 19 edition will mark the passing of Gillett and a tribute program is planned for a future date.

"News of Charlie's death is terribly sad," said Roger Wright, controller BBC Radio 3, in a statement. "To his audiences he was 'Mr. World Music' and the community of listeners is left richer for his tireless support of an extraordinary range of artists. We were privileged at Radio 3 to have been able to offer Charlie a platform so he could continue his unique work in broadening musical horizons."

Peter Horrocks, director BBC Global News and BBC World Service, added: "His broadcasts brought together music and radio fans from far flung corners of the globe.

"His postbag was one of the biggest, most affectionate and diverse in [BBC World Service HQ] Bush House which confirmed his special place in listener's lives. He was a very special broadcaster and he will be sorely missed."

Gillett began broadcasting on the global network in 1999 and had a weekly show "World Of Music." The March 20 edition will feature a show from 2009 and listener tributes.

During a spell at commercial London radio station Capital FM from 1980, Gillett was the first DJ to play artists such as Yussou N'Dour, Salif Keita and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on U.K. radio.

He was part of the 1987 industry panel that decided on the genre name of 'world music' to market such catalog by the labels. From 2000 to 2008, he release double-CD world music compilations each year, beginning with "World 2000," with label partners including EMI, Wrasse Records, Warner Classics and Jazz, and Rhino.

Earlier in his career, he could claim to have discovered Dire Straits in 1976 after playing a demo on BBC Radio London. He also managed Ian Dury in the mid-'70s.

Gillett wrote "The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll," which was published in the U.S. in 1970 and in Britain the following year. "Making Tracks," a history of Atlantic Records, was published in 1974.

In 1972, Gillett and Gordon Nelki founded the indie label and music publishing company Oval Music, named after the Oval cricket ground in Kennington, south London. It released records by artists including Lene Lovich and Paul Hardcastle, and Oval publishes Hardcastle's track "19," which spent five weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. in 1985.

In 2006, Gillett was awarded the John Peel Award for outstanding contribution to music radio by the Radio Academy.

He is survived by his wife Buffy, daughters Suzy and Jody, son Ivan, and two grandchildren.