R.I.P. Rik Mayall: A tribute

Rik Mayall, British comedian, actor and writer known for his turns as Rik from The Young Ones, the title character from the explosively beloved Drop Dead Fred, one half of comic duo Bottom and host of the magical Grim Tales, has passed away at the age of 56.

In 1998, Mayall was in a five-day coma after a near-fatal quad bike accident, after which he came to find a newfound appreciation for life. He is survived by his wife since 1985, Barbara Robbin, a make-up artist he met and married; he also has three children.

Police say there aren't any suspicious circumstances, but by all accounts his heart simply gave out. Those who know him claim he didn't have a weak heart, but his management came out mere hours ago and issued a statement, saying:

"We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Rick Mayall who passed away this morning...We are devastated and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him."

My first encounter with Rik Mayall was a superbly affecting one. I was thirteen, and had spent many years without a television. This was a choice my parents made in an effort, I suspect, to imbue myself and my siblings with a kind of supernatural ability to read, apparently believing our other entertainment-deprived faculties would somehow become enhanced with no television to muddy them.

My parents turned up one day with not only a television, but several thousand dollars worth of VHS tapes. I suspect that, wandering through a department store together, they'd been struck by something as misguided as guilt, harried one another into a frenzy, and spent money they could scarcely afford to fritter away on literally hundreds of shows and movies they adored. An education on what they liked, nay, loved, was about to commence.

Myself and my brother and sister, minds starved for even the barest whit of entertainment beyond that offered by books (and I am by no means balking at the merits offered by books, but schoolyard talk is difficult when you can't talk about moving pictures), were salivating. We sat there, perched like hungry hyenas, faces peeled back in a rictus of anticipation and glee. What would be the first thing we'd watch? Our eyes pawed hungrily over the spines of our new literal video library.

Dad concealed his first choice, raised a taut, angular black tape, and inserted it. He pressed play. The BBC logo came up (something stirred in us; four years ago we'd likely seen it at the foot of an episode of Puddle Lane), and the following sensory barrage played out.

We were hooked. Characters were swearing, yelling and exploding with such frequency and vigor that I, for one, couldn't sleep properly for several nights. I began quoting Rik, the anarchistic maniac brought to life by Mayall. His comic timing, energy and attitude affected the very core of my being; I began quoting him, acting like him. As a young theatrically inclined loner, I suddenly had a role model. And just when my parents began to express polite concern, Mayall appeared on the ABC one afternoon on a thoroughly wholesome kids show to calm them right down.

It was like he was looking out for me. Once I'd gorged myself sufficiently on pop-culture to be able to get back into regular conversations with the rest of my schoolmates, BANG. A little movie called Drop Dead Fred hit the cinemas, and suddenly, everyone just... got it. They understood the appeal of Mayall's savage, refined brand of comic insanity which, in my young mind, meant they got me, too.

Performers like Rik Mayall are exceptionally rare. He cut his comic teeth on the London scene amongst such luminaries as Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Rowan Atkinson, Alexi Sayle and, of course, his long-time collaborator and friend, Adrian Edmonson. The pair, creatively and personally inseparable until early 2000, ended up patching things up, but Edmonson's statement from this morning is heartbreaking.

“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.”

Mayall has touched so many lives, in so many ways. He meant a great deal to me, and to many of my friends, but he didn't even know us. It's hard to reply to those who would claim real sorrow isn't called for, or valid, in the face of news like this, but he had the kind of infectious, generous creative output that made things so much easier and more interesting, and relatable, and damnably enjoyable for people like me. He was, by all accounts, an exceedingly kind, gentle guy, and his loved ones are going through hell right now. But I hope, as hollow as this sounds, the love pouring in from all over the globe does something to ease their sorrow.

Mayall was a genius, and he will be sorely missed.

Here are three things I feel you should see, before you set off on a well and truly ruined day. First off, Mayall's first, and only, foray into twitter.

Secondly, here's some of his early standup, as performed in 1984 on Wogan. A friend recently showed me this, and I didn't even know he'd done standup; the friend then went on the passionately talk me through how his comedy and stagecraft had influenced and affected her craft. 

And finally, I went and found the entire Drop Dead Fred on youtube. I highly recommend watching it if you haven't; it's thoroughly nineties, it's sentimental as hell, and it's utterly, stupidly wonderful. And I feel that Rik would highly approve of calling in sick, curling up and watching him be at once utterly insane and indelibly relatable for ninety minutes on a Monday.

Thanks, Rik. You nailed it. 

Travel safe.

Paul Verhoeven

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