RIK MAYALL: Falling Down Funny

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Rik Mayall died yesterday. I was a huge fan. In the event you are too young to be familiar with Rik Mayall, or if you are not a fan of British comedy, he was the creator of “The Young Ones.” He played Lord Flashheart in “Black Adder.” He was Drop Dead Fred in the movie of the same name. He was great, a very well respected comedian in the U.K.

Rik Mayall died after a seizure. He became a seizure patient after an accident in 1998 left him in a coma for several days. “Sudden Unexpected Death From Epilepsy” took a comic genius.

(Edit: I originally posted this after Mr. Mayall’s death. Peter Richardson, a friend of his whose son was one of the last people to see him alive said that “it was a seizure of some sort.” Mr. Mayall’s wife now says that it was a heart attack. The post mortem was inconclusive. I will update this blog when doctors decide for certain what the cause of death was. I apologize for assuming Mr. Richardson was correct but it does not change any of the opinions stated in the rest of this piece.)

I have two things I want to say about Rik Mayall.

First, English papers repeatedly referred to his seizure as a “fit.” As regular readers of this commentary know, I hate the word “fit.” (1)

Little kids have “fits.” “I wanna candy bar! I wanna candy bar!” That’s a fit. Oddly enough, in that sort of fit, jamming your wallet into the kid’s mouth is actually effective. It is not effective when someone actually has a seizure.

Secondly, and most importantly, Rik Mayall was one of the very few famous people known to be suffering from epilepsy (2). Danny Glover, Neil Young, Rick Harrison from Pawn Stars all have epilepsy. Prince had it as a child. Rapper Lil Wayne talked about battling epilepsy and still has frequent seizures (3).

But even when one looks at the lists online, this doesn’t seem like a lot of people. Sixty-five million people in the world have epilepsy. One in 26 Americans will develop seizures in their lifetime (4). Out of all these people, these are the only famous people with seizures?

Of all the actors, of all the musicians, of all the baseball, football, hockey and other sports-stars; this is it? Of all the politicians in the United States, only Chief Justice John Roberts has epilepsy? The only congressman ever was Tony Coelho, currently the Epilepsy Foundation’s National Board of Director’s Chairman?

When we scour the lists of famous people “who have epilepsy” online, there are about two dozen names that we recognize. I wish that I could say “I find that hard to believe” but I don’t. I find it easy to believe. Not because I think there were not many more, I think there were hundreds if not thousands more. But I think that they all kept quiet about their condition.

In a world where people like Coach Jerry Kill can be run out of their job simply for having a seizure in public, is it surprising that epileptics keep quiet about their condition? (5) In a world where an epileptic can be arrested just for being epileptic is it surprising that we stay quiet? (6)

As I said, I was a big fan of Rik Mayall. Because he was a great comic, and more importantly, because he had the balls to come forward and show the world that he could still do it while falling down. Hell, he could fall down funny.

1 – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/rik-mayall-cause-of-death-still-unknown-according-to-wife-9518663.html
2 – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/rik-mayall-cause-of-death-still-unknown-according-to-wife-9518663.html
3 – http://hollywoodlife.com/2013/09/09/katie-couric-lil-wayne-interview-retiring-seizures-jail/
4 – http://www.cureepilepsy.org/aboutepilepsy/facts.asp
5 – http://www.fallingdownfunny.com/2013/09/19/dont-make-me-look-at-jerry-kill/
6 – http://www.fallingdownfunny.com/2014/02/14/district-attorney-be-afraid-of-epileptics/

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