Friends and actors have paid tribute to madcap ‘comedy genius’ Rik Mayall, who died on Monday morning at the age of 56.
The star shot to fame playing the poetry writing anarchist Rick in The Young Ones, and enjoyed a glittering career which saw him appear in Britain’s best-loved shows including Blackadder and Bottom.
It is not yet known what caused Rik’s unexpected death, and the world of comedy took to Twitter to lament a legend.
Close friend and long-time collaborator Adrian Edmondson led the tributes, saying he felt privileged to have shared ‘carefree stupid days’ with Rik at Manchester University, where the pair studied.
He said: “There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish b*****d.”
Stephen Fry, who also starred in Blackadder, said on Twitter: “Simply distraught to hear of the death of Rik Mayall. An authentic comedy genius and a prince among men.”
Ben Elton, who was university friends with Rik, said: “I owe him so much, he changed my life utterly when he asked me to co-write The Young Ones with him and he was with me on the day I met my wife. He always made me cry with laughter, now he’s just made me cry.”
Rik’s Young Ones co-star, Nigel Planer, told the BBC he was ‘very, very sad and upset that we’ve lost Rik, who was inspirational, bonkers, and a great life force’.
He described Rik as ‘a brilliant comedian and someone who made everyone else’s lives more fun. He will be really, really missed’.
Student Rick in The Young Ones – a pompous wannabe anarchist who loved Cliff Richard – was one of his best known characters.
Sir Cliff, who in 1986 recorded a charity version of his hit single Living Doll with the show’s cast for Comic Relief, paid tribute saying: “I became a fan of his when he was in The Young Ones show and was always thrilled when he used my name during his series.
“I am so sad at his parting.”
Rik’s wife Barbara Robbin – who is understood to have found his body at their home in Barnes, south west London – told the Daily Mirror she had no idea what had caused his death and would have to wait for a coroner’s report.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said officers were called by London Ambulance Service to a house in Barnes where ‘a man, aged in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the scene’.
He added the death was not believed to be suspicious.
Rik, who leaves his wife and three children, Rosie, Sidney and Bonnie, survived an almost fatal quad bike accident in 1998 which left him in a coma for several days.
He used to mark the occasion by exchanging presents with his wife and children and said the near-death experience changed his life.
He said: “The main difference between now and before my accident is I’m just very glad to be alive.”
Rik was born in Harlow, Essex, to drama teacher parents and launched his comedy career on stage in a duo, The Dangerous Brothers, with Edmondson.
He also appeared as the swashbuckling Lord Flashheart in Blackadder and played the conniving Conservative MP Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman.
Comic and Britain’s Got Talent judge David Walliams said: “I am heartbroken that my comedy idol growing up, Rik Mayall, has died. He made me want to be a comedian.”
Impressionist Rory Bremner called him ‘a fireball of creative comic energy and inspiration’.
Monty Python star Eric Idle said: “Very sad to hear of the passing of Rik Mayall. Far too young. A very funny and talented man.”
But it is unclear what Mayall would make of the flood of Twitter tributes that have come his way, as he was not a fan of the micro blogging site.
He sent his first and only tweet on 13 April 2010, writing: “Opening my very own Twitter to stop another b*****d from doing it. So f**k off & don’t expect to hear from me any time soon. Love Rik x”