Friends and admirers last night paid tribute to the comic actor Rik Mayall – star of shows such as The Young Ones and Bottom – who has died at the age of 56.
Adrian Edmondson, his long-time collaborator, said he felt privileged to have shared “carefree stupid days” with the friend he first met when they studied at university.
Mayall’s death was announced by his management firm yesterday afternoon.
It is believed the star’s wife, Scottish make-up artist Barbara Robbin, found him dead at home yesterday morning.
Last night, Ms Robbin said she did not know how her husband had died. Speaking outside their home in Barnes, London, she said the family would have to wait on a coroner’s report.
Clutching a tissue, she said: “We don’t know yet what happened. He had a strong heart, so I don’t think it was a heart attack. But we just don’t know until the coroner’s report. Maybe he had a fit, maybe it was his heart. We just don’t know.”
Mayall survived an almost fatal quad bike accident nearly 16 years ago which left him in a coma for several days.
His career included appearances in shows including Blackadder and The New Statesman,in which he played the conniving Conservative MP Alan B’Stard.
Edmondson, with whom he appeared frequently after they met in Manchester, 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.”
Also praising Mayall, who had three children, was David Walliams, who said: “I am heartbroken that my comedy idol has died. He made me want to be a comedian.”
Impressionist Rory Bremner called him “a fireball of creative comic energy and inspiration”.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said officers were called by ambulance medics to a house where “a man, in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the scene”.
The death is not believed to be suspicious, he added.
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.
He said: “The main difference between now and before my accident is I’m just very glad to be alive. Other people get moody in their forties and fifties – men get the male menopause. I missed the whole thing. I was just really happy.”
He started on stage in a duo, The Dangerous Brothers, with Edmondson and they went on to appear together as part of their breakthrough series The Young Ones, as well as reprising their original act in the anarchic comedy Bottom.
Mayall, who was born in Harlow, Essex, to drama teacher parents, also appeared in shows including Filthy Rich & Catflap. One of his most recent roles was in Channel 4’s Man Down, in which he played the father of comic Greg Davies.
Early in his career, he featured in the BBC Scotland programme A Kick Up the Eighties, starring as self-styled investigative journalist Kevin Turvey, who still lived with his mother and spoke with a broad Midlands accent.
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.”
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.”
Writing on Twitter, Bob Mortimer said: “Last time I saw him, he grabbed my crotch and said, ‘Not eaten yet then?’. So sad. Funniest man of his generation.”
Actress Gemma Jones, who starred with Mayall in ITV comedy All About George, said his legacy will live on through his comedy shows. “I think The Young Ones will remain in everybody’s minds of that generation,” she added.
Ben Elton, another university contemporary, said: “I met Rik when I was 18 and his friendship and extraordinary comic talent have been an inspiration to me ever since.
“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.”