Seasoned devotees of British TV comedy -- as well as any children of the 1990s with fond memories of "Drop Dead Fred" -- are feeling a twinge of sorrow today with the news that Rik Mayall has passed away at the age of 56. The comic actor and writer, who made a name for himself in 1982 with the cult BBC sitcom "The Young Ones," died in his London home this morning. The cause of death has not yet been announced, but is not being treated as suspicious.
Mayall, whose offbeat, highly physical comedy style earned him a devoted following as well as some vocal detractors -- Spike Milligan among them -- worked principally on the small screen, successfully contributing to such sitcoms as "Blackadder," "Bottom" and "The New Ststesman," though it's the BAFTA-winning "The Young Ones," a satirical portrait of four university students in Thatcher's Britain which he conceived with then-girlfriend Lise Meyer, for which he remains best loved in his home country.
More Americans may recall him for his most successful big-screen venture, as the title character in the 1991 black comedy "Drop Dead Fred" -- playing the manic imaginary friend of Phoebe Cates' protagonist, he didn't win over the critics, but the film grossed $13 million and has cultivated an enduring following. In 1997, meanwhile, he won an Emmy Award for his voice work as Toad in the animated TV production "The Willows in Winter."
Mayall is survived by his wife and three children.