Entertainment News

  • 22 July 2013, 11:56

Mel Smith: Comedian Dies From Heart Attack

Griff Rhys Jones has led the tributes to his longtime comedy partner Mel Smith, who died from a heart attack at the age of 60.

The pair were most famous for their TV shows Not The Nine O'Clock News and Alas Smith And Jones.

Jones, who had been friends with Smith for 35 years, said the comedian was a "force for life" to everybody who met him, adding he was a "gentleman and a scholar, a gambler and a wit".

He also said: "I still can't believe this has happened. We are all in a state of shock. We have lost a very, very dear friend.

"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."

Smith began his career as a theatre director at some of the country's most established venues, but it was his partnership with fellow comedian Jones that made him a household name.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mel and Griff, as they became known, produced and starred in four series of the hit comedy Not The Nine O'Clock News.

Their success continued with Alas Smith And Jones, which was one of the most popular sketch shows in the 1980s.

It won an Emmy Award and The British Comedy Award for Top Entertainment Series where Mel and Griff were named Top Entertainment Performer.

The pair founded Talkback, which grew to be one of the UK's largest producers of TV comedy and light entertainment programming.

Smith, who died at his home in northwest London, also directed the film The Tall Guy in 1989 and Bean in 1997, and starred in movies including Wilt alongside Jones in 1989.

Other friends and colleagues have also been paying their respects.

Not The Nine O'Clock News producer John Lloyd said Smith was an "amazingly talented guy" but added that he had not been in good health.

He said: "We did know he was ill. He's 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."

Actor and fellow funnyman 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.

Atkinson said: "He had a wonderfully generous and sympathetic presence both on and off screen."

Comedian and author Stephen Fry tweeted: "Terrible news about my old friend Mel Smith, dead today from a heart attack. Mel lived a full life, but was kind, funny & wonderful to know."

Smith was described as having "extraordinary natural talent" by Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV.

Mr Fincham, who was the business partner of Smith and Jones at Talkback Productions as well as their agent, said: "Life was always exciting around Mel.

"He was my friend and business partner for many years and had extraordinary natural talent with the rare gift of wearing it lightly.

"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."

Father Ted writer Graham Linehan said he and writing partner Arthur Mathews had been helped in their career by Smith, with their first sketches being broadcast on Alas Smith And Jones.

He said on Twitter: "Very sad to hear news of Mel Smith's death has been confirmed. He and Griff gave Arthur and I our break. Was always so kind & generous to us."

Actor and comic Peter Serafinowicz also paid tribute on Twitter. He wrote: "Very sad to hear about Mel Smith. He did something very kind for me early in my career even though he hardly knew me. Such a funny man."

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