I was genuinely saddened to hear of Rik Mayall’s passing. Normally when you hear news of a celebrity death, someone you never really knew in person, you’re reminded of the things they did, and there’s a general sadness or loss that’s associated with that, sadness that we’ve lost this person and their performances. But most of the time, for me, it’s not an emotional connection, it’s connection with what I knew of them. With Rik Mayall, I felt actual, human loss. It was very much like someone I’d known was gone. In a way, Mayall was someone I grew up with.
Like most people around my age, I grew up watching ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Bottom’. I remember when we discovered ‘Bottom’, airing late at night on ABC. It was the most amazing thing – us barely teenage boys couldn’t believe what we were seeing. I watched it on a black and white TV, about as big as a microwave, and I’d have to fiddle round with the rabbit ears to get good reception (there was always be a point where it’d come through perfect, then as soon as you let go of the aerial, it’d go fuzzy – I think I actually watched a couple of episodes with metal in hand, angled just so). The Young Ones was truly ahead of it’s time, some of the jokes in that show pre-date the random moments that The Simpsons later became renowned for, and they’re still brilliant to this day (‘Travel Scrabble, Death?), but it took me a while to truly appreciate that show, which is why I probably gravitated to ‘Bottom’ more. I remember one of my birthdays, when a friend of mine gave me the ‘Bottom Live’ DVD. They swore. They made mistakes. They cracked themselves up. It was fantastic.
Rik Mayall was one of those rare talents that stole your attention in every scene he was in. I can’t remember any appearance of Mayall where any other actor got a look in. He dominated the screen, took over, and you just wanted to know what his character would do next. He made everything else seem less interesting, his characters always larger than life.
I didn’t really expect to hear of him passing. It’d been a while since I’d seen him do anything, but just knowing he was around was comforting. Knowing that he might show up again in some random film or TV show. Seeing him was like seeing your favourite toy from when you were a kid – that excitement came back, that feeling. There he was. And now he’s gone.
Rik Mayall was creative, intelligent, stupid, hilarious, an over-actor, an annoying twat, a cunning villain, an inspiring hero, a unique genius, and above all, a man who reminded us that you can’t take life too seriously.
When he was in the frame, he made everything else seem less interesting. Without him in the world, everything kind of is.