The People’s Poet is dead. British comedian Rik Mayall has died at the age of 56. He died at home, but as of this writing the cause of death is still unknown.
I don’t even know how to handle this news. I watched The Young Ones, the groundbreaking student-life sitcom Mayall co-wrote and co-starred in with his comedy partner Adrian Edmondson, late nights on cable throughout high school. I know all the episodes by heart. I know all the routines by heart — because really, each episode was a number of separate routines strung together with the barest plot (the guys do laundry; the guys are bored despite all the exciting things happening right outside their windows; the guys watch a video nasty — these are actual episode descriptions), interrupted only by random musical guests (Rip Rig + Panic, anyone?) and the occasional, tedious comedy bit from Alexei Sayle. I have all the episodes on DVD, but they’re so vivid in my memories I rarely ever feel the need to break it out.
Mayall wasn’t only Rik from The Young Ones. In 1991, he starred as Phoebe Cates’s reappearing imaginary childhood friend in Drop Dead Fred, a movie I’ll readily admit I only went to see because Rik Mayall was in it. I thought the film was cute, but nothing memorable. Of course, I will always also remember Rik Mayall as “2nd Chess Player” in An American Werewolf in London. He’s in the pub David and Jack enter at the beginning of the movie.
Rik Mayall had a long and distinguished career in TV and film, but for me he was indistinguishable from Rik in The Young Ones. That he’s dead now cuts me to the core and reminds me uncomfortably of my own age and mortality. But rather than dwell, I’ll leave you with this classic moment from The Young Ones: Rik’s daydream of being a superhero called the People’s Poet. Enjoy.