Rik Mayall: 'the funniest man of his generation'

Actors and comedians have paid tribute to the "bonkers and brilliant" Rik Mayall, who has died at the age of 56.

The Essex-born actor and comedian, known for his roles in alternative comedy shows such as The Young Ones, Bottom and The New Statesman, died in his London home on Monday, his agent confirmed.

The cause of death has not yet been disclosed though Scotland Yard said it was not believed to be suspicious.

The much-loved actor was best known for his comedy partnership with Adrian Edmondson, who he first met at Manchester University. The pair went on to become one of the biggest comedy duos of the 1980s, first through their popular comedy double act The Dangerous Brothers and later as part of the comedy group Comic Strip alongside Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.

Rik Mayall (left) as Rick in The Young Ones with Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Christopher Rya
Rik Mayall (left) as Rick in the Young Ones with Adrian Edmondson as Vyvyan, Nigel Planer as Neil, and Christopher Ryan as Mike. Photograph: Photos 12/Alamy Photograph: Photos 12/Alamy

The pair's big break came in 1982 with the cult BBC sitcom The Young Ones, which Mayall penned with Ben Elton and Lise Mayer. In the series, Mayall played Rick, a sociology student with a penchant for Cliff Richard, while Edmondson played Vyvyan, a psychopathic punk medical student.

Mayall gained further popular success with his depiction of the fictional megalomaniac Conservative MP Alan Beresford B'Stard in the 1985 sitcom The New Statesman, which satirised Tory MPs of the time.

Rik Mayall and Marsha Fitzalan pose as their 1980s TV characters Alan and Sarah B'Stard
Rik Mayall and Marsha Fitzalan pose as their 1980s TV characters Alan and Sarah B'Stard to launch the UK tour of its stage adaptation in 2006. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

In the 90s, Mayall and Edmondson went on to write and co-star in Bottom, a slapstick sitcom about two flatmates who live on the dole in Hammersmith, London, which ran for three series between 1991 and 1995. Despite plans to revive the series in 2012, they were scrapped when Edmondson got "cold feet" about the project.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said officers were called by London ambulance service to a house in Barnes, south-west London, at around 1.20pm where "a man, aged in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the scene".

A wave of tributes greeted the news of Mayall's death. Edmondson 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 bastard."

Ben Elton, who was friends with Mayall from university, 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."

His 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 Mayall as "a brilliant comedian and someone who made everyone else's lives more fun. He will be really, really missed".

Comedian Alexei Sayle, another collaborator with Mayall on The Young Ones, wrote in the Independent: "Comedy is truly great is when it comes out of nothing, and the greatest of comedians, like Rik, have that rare ability to conjure laugh after laugh, not from endless words, but from a single look or one absurd gesture … It was in his bones. Sweet Rik, much loved – what a loss."

Stephen Fry, who starred in Blackadder alongside Mayall, said on Twitter: "Simply distraught to hear of the death of Rik Mayall. An authentic comedy genius and a prince among men."

Fellow comedian Bob Mortimer described him as the "funniest man of his generation". The impressionist Rory Bremner said he would always remember the actor as "a fireball of creative comic energy and inspiration".

The 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."

The Blackadder producer John Lloyd said Mayall, who appeared on the show's third series as Lord Flashheart, was "just extraordinary".

"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."

This was echoed by the BBC director of television, Danny Cohen, who called Mayall a truly brilliant comedian. "His comic timing was outstanding and his screen presence unique. For a generation of viewers he was a true comedy hero."

Among others paying tribute to Mayall was actor Helen Lederer, who appeared in The Young Ones: "Rik Mayall, I loved you. Gutted. The man who taught me not to crash laughs, has crashed. Real love to wife, children. Massive loss."

The Little Britain comedian David Walliams also expressed his sadness at the news: "I am heartbroken that my comedy idol growing up, Rik Mayall, has died. He made me want to be a comedian."

In 1998, Mayall was nearly crushed to death after he fell off his quad bike and the 600lb weight landed on top of him. He suffered a fractured skull and severe haemorrhaging and spent five days on a ventilator in a medically induced coma.

The comic actor later made light of the trauma at his Devon farm, and marked the anniversary of his accident by exchanging presents with his wife and children.

"I beat Jesus Christ," he said. "He was dead for three days at Easter. When I crashed it was the day before Good Friday, Crap Thursday, and I was technically dead until Easter Monday – that's five days … beat him 5-3."

He added: "Other people get moody in their 40s and 50s – men get the male menopause. I missed the whole thing. I was just really happy."

Despite the severity of his accident, Mayall returned to television, first playing Gideon Pryke in the BBC drama Jonathan Creek, and making a recent appearance in the Channel 4 sitcom Man Down.

Even Mayall's one and only venture into social media was lauded as "comedy genius" when in 2010 he wrote: "Opening my very own Twitter to stop another bastard from doing it. So fuck off & don't expect to hear from me any time soon. Love Rik x."

The statement released by his agent, Brunskill Management, read: "We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Rik Mayall who passed away this morning. We are devastated and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him."

Mayall leaves behind his wife, the Scottish make-up artist Barbara Robbin, whom he married in 1985, and his three children Rosie, 28, Sidney, 26, and Bonnie, 19.

• This article was amended on 10 June 2014. An embedded tweet from @rikmayall appeared to have been sent on the day of his death, making it probable another person used the account to re-tweet the original. A tweet from comedian Chris O'Dowd has now been embedded instead to show an image of Mayall's original 2010 tweet.