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Rik Mayall, the much-loved comic actor, has died in what may have been a consequence of the quad bike accident that nearly claimed his life 16 years ago.
The 56-year-old star of The Young Ones and The New Statesman died suddenly at his home in London.
His early death seemed especially cruel because he had survived the near-fatal quad bike accident in 1998, in which he suffered two brain haemorrhages and was on life support for five days.
Although he defied the doctors to make a good recovery, returning to work the following year, he was left with epilepsy for which he had to take daily medication. He had spoken in the past of suffering a fit after failing to take the pills.
His wife, Barbara Robbin, who is understood to have found him dead, said she did not know how he had died.
Speaking outside the couple’s home in Barnes, south-west London, Ms Robbin 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 and Ms Robbin, a make-up artist, married in 1985. They have three children.
The London Ambulance Service and Metropolitan Police were called to the house in Barnes, south-west London, but Mayall was pronounced dead at the scene at 1.20pm.
Among those to pay tribute was Ade Edmondson, Mayall’s writing partner and co-star in The Young Ones and Bottom.
Their friendship dated back almost 40 years, to the day they met on a university drama course in 1975.
In a statement, 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 b------."
One of the pioneers of the 1980s alternative comedy scene, Mayall found fame in The Young Ones, an anarchic sitcom in which he played a wannabe student radical.
He and Edmondson were also members of the Comic Strip Presents team alongside Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Alexei Sayle.
Other famous roles included Lord Flashheart in the Blackadder series and Alan B’Stard, the gloriously sleazy Tory MP in The New Statesman. The latter ran from 1987-1993, earning a Bafta and an Emmy award.
Mayall also appeared in film, starring in the Hollywood film Drop Dead Fred. He was cast as a poltergeist in the first Harry Potter film, only to find his scenes had been consigned to the cutting room floor.
With typical humour, he laughed off the slight. “That was the best film I was in – and I wasn’t in it,” he said.
Mayall deployed the same humour when discussing the quad bike accident that took place at the family’s farmhouse in South Devon.
After five days on life support, he was not expected to live and doctors told his wife she should start preparing her goodbyes. Then he showed signs of life.
He later joked: "I beat Jesus Christ. 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. I beat him 5-3.”
At one point he fled hospital in his pyjamas, convinced that staff were the police and he was the victim of a conspiracy. But he made a determined recovery and spoke in subsequent interviews of his joy at being given a second chance.
“I look to the sky sometimes and wonder why I’m still here. I know I’m incredibly lucky,” he said.
Tributes poured in from fellow comedians. Eric Idle said: “Very sad to hear of the passing of Rik Mayall. Far too young. A very funny and talented man.”
John Lloyd, producer of Blackadder, said Mayall’s death was a “dreadful shock” and described him as one of the most talented comic actors of his generation.
“He was ridiculously young and it’s very sad. He was a great guy, not just an absolutely brilliant comic and actor but a really good chap. He was a great friend. I’m really so sorry for Barbara and the kids.”
Lloyd said Mayall was a “consummate professional” who secretly devised his own costume for Lord Flashheart without telling the rest of the cast.
“He came on set with this ludicrous blonde wig with seashells in it, and a moustache, and the most ridiculous costume that he had managed to concoct without anyone knowing.
“He just walked on that set for the first time and there was a gasp of admiration. He had such charisma.”
Mayall worked regularly last year, appearing in the Channel 4 sitcom Man Down and in the BBC series Jonathan Creek. He was in the middle of filming a Dutch film, The Escape, on location in Portugal.
One of his last projects was a short animated comedy, also for Channel 4. Its title: Don’t Fear Death.