'Comedy great' Mel Smith dies
The comic, actor and director Mel Smith has been hailed as "one of the comedy greats of the modern era" after his death from a heart attack at the age of 60.
Smith, who is understood to have been ill for some time, was at the home he shared with wife Pam in north-west London when he died on Friday.
His sidekick Griff Rhys Jones, with whom he starred in sketch show Alas Smith and Jones for more than a decade, said his friend and colleague was a "force for life" and that he was deeply saddened by the death.
Jones, who had been friends with Smith for 35 years, said: "I still can't believe this has happened. To everybody who ever met him, Mel was a force for life. He had a relish for it that seemed utterly inexhaustible. He inspired love and utter loyalty and he gave it in return. I will look back on the days working with him as some of the funniest times that I have ever spent. We probably enjoyed ourselves far too much, but we had a rollercoaster of a ride along the way. Terrific business. Fantastic fun, making shows. Huge parties and crazy times. And Mel was always ready to be supportive. Nobody could have been easier to work with."
He added that he and Smith never argued, but had a lot of fun. Describing his friend, he went on: "He was a gentleman and a scholar, a gambler and a wit. And he was a brilliant actor. But he never took himself or the business too seriously. We are all in a state of shock. We have lost a very, very dear friend."
The pair had first worked together on Not the Nine O'Clock News, which ran from 1979 to 1982, alongside Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson. They went on to form production company Talkback, which was itself responsible for comedy hits Da Ali G Show and Knowing Me, Knowing You. When Alas Smith and Jones ended, Smith turned his attention to his directing career, and also continued to appear in films and television programmes.
Rowan Atkinson, who worked with Smith on both Not the Nine O'Clock News and Bean, the first Mr Bean film, said he was "truly sad" to hear about his death. "Mel Smith - a lovely man of whom I saw too little in his later years," he said. "I loved the sketches that we did together on Not the Nine O'Clock News. He was the cast member with whom I felt the most natural performing empathy. He had a wonderfully generous and sympathetic presence both on and off screen. He was also an excellent theatre and movie director, doing a wonderful job on the first Mr Bean movie. If you direct a comedy movie that takes 245 million dollars at the box office you've done something pretty special, and I never thought he was given enough credit for this success. I feel truly sad at his parting."
BBC's director of television Danny Cohen added: "Mel Smith was one of the comedy greats of the modern era. He brought huge pleasure to audiences through both his performances and his writing."
Friend Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV, said: "Being funny came naturally to him, so much so that he never seemed to give it a second thought. Mel and Griff were one of the great comedy acts and it's hard to imagine that one of them is no longer with us."
John Lloyd, director of Not the Nine O'Clock News, told the BBC: "Mel did an extraordinary thing - he taught us all how to make comedy natural."He said Smith was "an amazingly talented guy in all sorts of areas" but added that he had been ill "for some time". "So although it is the most awful news - I mean, it's a tragedy, it's a great loss not just as an amazingly talented guy in all sorts of areas but also as a friend - I think he was not in good shape, so in some ways we try and put a good spin on it by saying it's a relief for him."