The news of another friend’s death strikes me more keenly when in the US. It makes me ponder the fragility of life and the time I wish I had spent – and should be spending – with so many people.
For the most part, I consider the UK a mere ocean away; in fact, one Christmas, flying from LA, I arrived back at my mother’s house in Bristol in less time than it took my brother to drive there from Clacton, thanks to the joyous M5.
But when I receive a call or read on Twitter (which is always first with the news) about another death, that ocean feels very wide, and the UK another planet.
The news of Rik Mayall’s death spread quickly on Twitter, and people were quick to pay tribute to his genius and place in comedy history. The suddenness and unexpectedness of it added to the heartfelt sadness among friends, colleagues and fans; his wife and children’s tribute to him on Facebook put them and their loss uppermost in our thoughts.
I first met Rik through my first job as TV critic on the Evening Standard in the late Eighties. I had reviewed him in The New Statesman, the political comedy penned by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, and raved about him. It was an extraordinary performance: full of menace and, at a time when we weren’t fully aware of just how vile politicians could be (well, I wasn’t, anyway), something of a prophecy.
For women, Rik had that rare thing among men: the ability to talk with you, not at you. He was not only a brilliant actor, comedian and lover of life, but a great listener. Having survived a near fatal accident in 1998, he came back from the dead after being in a coma for five days (beating Jesus, he said), and we were lucky for the extra years he gave us.
I got to chat to him a lot when he was performing in the West End with Adrian Edmondson, in Waiting for Godot. It was the only time I ever enjoyed the play, and, after the show, I would see him and/or Adrian in the Groucho Club (sans Godot – I tell you, we’ll be waiting forever for that guy), the private members’ establishment in the heart of Soho.
I was very new to London, very insecure and pretty depressed. Rik was someone who lent an ear to my woes. Not without his own insecurities, he made me laugh so much at a time when a lot of my hours were spent sobbing.
He had beautiful eyes, a gorgeous smile, and a mellifluous voice that brought instant calm. He was caring, sweet, and nobody had a bad word to say about him.
His contribution to the world of comedy is assured, but we have lost not only a great performer, but a lovely man.
No matter how much we hear about death, no matter how many times we are forced to confront it, no matter how much we acknowledge its inevitability, it still has the ability to shock.
Hearing about Rik was one such moment.