British comedian Mel Smith, who became a household name in Britain for a series of television sketch shows in the ‘70s and ‘80s which colleagues said had inspired a generation of comics, has died of a heart attack, his agent said on Saturday.
Smith, 60, who died on Friday, found fame starring in hugely popular shows Not The Nine O’clock News and Alas Smith and Jones and went on to direct films such as Bean and The Tall Guy.
Rowan Atkinson, who worked with the comic on both Not the Nine O’Clock News and Bean, said he was “truly sad” to hear about the death.
“Mel Smith — a lovely man of whom I saw too little in his later years. He had a wonderfully generous and sympathetic presence both on and off the screen,” he said, according to telegraph.co.uk. “If you direct a comedy movie that takes $245 million at the box office, you’ve done something pretty special, and I never thought he was given enough credit for this success.”
“I still can’t believe this has happened,” said Griff Rhys Jones, his comedy partner in his best-known TV shows, according to Reuters. “To everybody who ever met him, Mel was a force for life. He was a gentleman and a scholar, a gambler and a wit.”
Together, they formed Talkback, a highly successful independent TV production house that spawned many hit British comedies including the Ali G series.
Smith had suffered from poor health in recent years, but confessed to being unable to stop working. He said in 2009: “It was my dark secret and I got deeply depressed. Like an alcoholic hiding his bottles, I started hiding my Nurofen tablets in the backs of drawers, behind books on bookshelves and slipped them between scripts.”
BBC’s Director General Tony Hall said: “Mel Smith’s contribution to British comedy cannot be overstated. On screen, he helped define a new style of comedy from the late ‘70s that continues to influence people to this day.”
“Very sad to hear the news of Mel Smith’s death. He was always so kind & generous to us,” tweeted Graham Linehan, writer of Father Ted.
Actor-comic Peter Serafinowicz tweeted: “He did something very kind for me early in my career even though he hardly knew me. Such a funny man.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2013.
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