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British comedian Rik Mayall dead at 56

By CNN Staff
updated 3:31 PM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • British actor and comedian Rik Mayall is dead at 56
  • Mayall is best known for starring in TV series "The Young Ones," "Blackadder" and "Bottom"
  • He had lead role in movie "Drop Dead Fred," playing imaginary friend of Phoebe Cates
  • Comedian survived a near-fatal quad bike accident in 1998

(CNN) -- Tributes are flowing in for much-loved British actor and comedian Rik Mayall, who died in London Monday at age 56.

Mayall, one of the leading lights of Britain's alternative comedy scene in the 1980s, is best known for starring roles in hit TV series "Blackadder," "The Young Ones," "The New Statesman" and "Bottom."

His agent, Kate Benson, of Brunskill Management, told CNN Mayall died suddenly Monday; she did not know the cause of his death.

Mayall first found widespread fame in student sitcom "The Young Ones," which ran for two years on the BBC, and was later shown on MTV in the United States.

The series, which he co-wrote, focused on the lives of four roommates at "Scumbag College." Mayall played politics-obsessed poet Rick alongside his long-term comedy partner Ade Edmondson as violent punk Vyvyan.

Edmondson led the tributes to Mayall Monday, telling Britain's Press Association news agency: "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 bastard."

Writer and comedian Ben Elton told the Press Association Mayall had "changed his life" by asking him to work on "The Young Ones." "He always made me cry with laughter, now he's just made me cry."

In cult favorite "Blackadder" -- also co-written by Elton -- Mayall was memorably cast in the guest role of the womanizing Lord Flashheart, who steals the anti-hero's fiancé from under his nose -- at the altar. His lines were regularly repeated in schoolyards and student pubs.

In the 1990s, he reunited with Edmondson for "Bottom," a slapstick-filled series about two unemployed flatmates who spend most of their time attacking each other violently with anything that comes to hand; the pair are reported to have come up with the idea for the show while starring in a production of Samuel Beckett's nihilistic "Waiting for Godot."

On Twitter, writer Hugo Rifkind suggested that fans of the show should pay homage to Mayall in true "Bottom" style: "Go home tonight, find someone you love, and hit them with a frying pan."

Mayall also branched out into movies, taking the lead role in 1991's "Drop Dead Fred," in which he played the imaginary friend of Phoebe Cates, returning years later to wreak havoc in the now grown-up Cates' life.

Mayall survived a near-fatal quad bike accident in 1998; he was in a coma for five days after the crash, on his farm in Devon, southwest England, and developed epilepsy as a result of the severe head injury he suffered when he was crushed under the bike.

In an interview several years later, he joked that he "beat Jesus" by coming back from the dead after so long. In 2006, he told Britain's Observer newspaper: "I was dead for five days. Jesus was only dead for three, so I beat him -- 17 April 1998 was the day I was sent back from heaven."

He said the accident left him "more aware of being alive."

House star Hugh Laurie, who worked with Mayall on "Blackadder," took to Twitter to recount a story about his co-star: "A young girl, stricken with terminal cancer, once asked Rik Mayall for an autograph. He wrote: 'Young Ones are never afraid.'"

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CNN's Lindsay Isaac and Bryony Jones contributed to this report.

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