Actor and comedian Rik Mayall dies at 56

Star of ‘The Young Ones’ was known for an array of manic, madcap characters

File photograph of Rik Mayall who died this morning. Photograph: PA

File photograph of Rik Mayall who died this morning. Photograph: PA

 

Comedian and actor Rik Mayall has died at home aged 56, his management firm said. It is believed the star’s wife found him at home in London yesterday morning.

Mayall, who shot to fame playing Rick in The Young Ones, had survived an almost fatal accident more than 10 years ago when a quad bike accident left him in a coma for several days. His career included appearances in shows including Blackadder, Bottom and The New Statesman, where he played the conniving Conservative MP Alan B’Stard.

Among those paying tribute to Mayall, who was married with three children, was David Walliams, who said: “I am heartbroken that my comedy idol growing up, Rik Mayall, has died. He made me want to be a comedian.”

A Scotland Yard spokesman said officers were called by London Ambulance Service to a house in Barnes, southwest London at around 1.20pm where “a man, aged in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the scene”. The death is not believed to be suspicious, he added.

Paying tribute, Blackadder producer John Lloyd said Mayall was “just extraordinary”. Speaking to BBC News, he said: “It’s really a dreadful piece of news. I remember going to the very first night of the Comedy Store and thinking ‘Where does this come from?’. “It was the most extraordinary thing, him and Ade Edmondson doing the Dangerous Brothers, they were called, and you just felt you were in the presence of something, a whole revolutionary thing.”

Speaking about the 1998 accident that nearly killed him, Mayall said doctors had kept him alive on a life-support machine for five days and were about to turn it off when he began to show signs of life. He used to mark the occasion by exchanging presents with his wife and children and said the near-death experience changed his life. “The main difference between now and before my accident is I’m just very glad to be alive. Other people get moody in their 40s and 50 – men get the male menopause. I missed the whole thing. I was just really happy.”

Mayall was known for an enviable array of manic, madcap characters over a three-decade career in the public eye.

From his big break as Kevin Turvey in A Kick Up the Eighties, through Cliff Richard-obsessed Rick in The Young Ones to Richie in Bottom, he flipped from one unforgettable and anarchic role to another.

Starring as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman he created a grotesque, self-serving and grasping politician who captured the nation’s imagination, and even his more minor roles, such as his occasional appearances as Flashheart in Blackadder, are etched in the memory of millions of viewers.

Last year, after his accident, Mayall made notable returns to the screen in a special edition of Jonathan Creek – as well as an appearance in Channel 4 sitcom Man Down.

Born in Essex and brought up in Worcestershire, he trained as an actor, studying drama at university in Manchester where he met many of the people who figure prominently in his early career.

Contemporaries included Edmondson and the writers Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, with whom he later collaborated on The Young Ones.

Double act

Things began to move quickly and he found his character Turvey getting guests spots on TV in 1981, and the next year a series of self-contained shows The Comic Strip Presents became one of the early commissions for Channel 4.

But it was his appearance as the politically-charged poet Rick in The Young Ones, launched by BBC2, that really made his mark. As the beret-wearing sociology student, and his Scumbag College flatmates, he and the cast pushed the boundaries of the TV sitcom – and taste – at a time when alternative comedy was on the rise.

Public eye

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Filthy Rich & Catflap saw him team up with Edmondson and Nigel Planer (who played hippy Neil in The Young Ones) once more, playing an always out-of-work actor. Mayall and Edmondson hit a further rich seam when they launched Bottom which ratcheted up the slapstick as well as the toilet humour, and also led to successful live tours.

He also added the dastardly Tory MP Alan B’Stard to his range of characters in 1987, his desperate backstabbing politician who would stop at nothing to clamber up the greasy pole enduring four series on ITV.

Mayall, who dated his college friend and co-writer Mayer for many years, married make-up artist Barbara Robbin in 1985. They had three children. – (PA)