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LONDON – A who’s who of British comedy from in front of and behind the camera have paid tribute to British comedy legend Mel Smith, whose death was announced on Saturday.
Among the stars expressing their sadness are Rowan Atkinson, former comedy partner Griff Rhys Jones and Simon Pegg. BBC director general Tony Hall also lauded Smith’s contributions.
Smith, who died at the age of 60 of a heart attack, had a big and influential career here on television and in the comedy world.
He created U.K. comedy production stable Talkback with Jones while appearing on television as part of one of U.K. television’s most successful comedy duos ever.
Jones issued a statement noting Smith was “a gentleman and a scholar, a gambler and a wit. We are all in a state of shock. We have lost a very, very dear friend.”
Many took to Twitter to express their admiration for Smith.
Atkinson co-starred in Not the Nine O’Clock News, a trailblazing satirical comedy sketch show, which ran from 1979 to 1982 on the BBC, alongside Smith, Jones and Pamela Stephenson.
Atkinson paid tribute, noting with sadness that he had seen “too little” of Smith in recent years. “He was also an excellent theater and movie director, doing a wonderful job on the first Mr. Bean movie,” Atkinson said. “If you direct a comedy movie that takes in $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 feel truly sad at his parting.”
BBC chief Hall said simply that Smith’s contribution to British comedy “cannot be overstated.”
Hall told the BBC that on screen, Smith “helped to define a new style of comedy from the late 1970s that continues to influence people to this day. And his pioneering TV production work with Griff Rhys Jones through their company Talkback has created many of the defining comedy shows of recent decades.”
Pegg, attending Comic-Con, tweeted: “Sad to hear about Mel Smith. His influence on contemporary British comedy both as a performer and producer is impossible to calculate.”
Aside from Smith’s myriad television and movie work, the man described as a cigar-smoking lovable rogue also introduced Queen to the stage at LiveAid, the global charity concert to end all charity concerts, and, with Kim Wilde, recorded “Rockin‘ Around the Christmas Tree,” a top-five hit in the British charts in 1987.
Smith and Jones founded production firm Talkback in 1981, which was responsible for comedy hits including Da Ali G Show and Knowing Me Knowing You. The banner was sold in 2000 in a multimillion dollar deal.
Smith’s big screen roles also included appearances in The Princess Bride and National Lampoon’s European Vacation.
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