British comedian Mel Smith, who became a household name for a series of television sketch shows in the 1970s and 80s which colleagues said had inspired a generation of comics, has died of a heart attack, his agent said overnight (NZ time).
Smith, who died yesterday (NZ time) aged 60, found fame starring in hugely popular shows Not The Nine O'clock News and Alas Smith and Jones and went on to direct the films Bean and The Tall Guy.
"I still can't believe this has happened," said Griff Rhys Jones, his comedy partner in his best-known TV shows.
"To everybody who ever met him, Mel was a force for life. He was a gentleman and a scholar, a gambler and a wit."
Together, they formed Talkback, a highly successful independent TV production house that spawned many hit British comedies including the Ali G series, which gave Sacha Baron Cohen his first big television break.
Talkback was sold to Pearson TV in 2000 for 62 million pounds (NZ$119 million).
"Mel Smith's contribution to British comedy cannot be overstated," said Tony Hall, the Director General of the BBC.
"On screen he helped to define a new style of comedy from the late 1970s that continues to influence people to this day."