On Christmas Eve of 2017, I posted a tribute to Richard Adams, author of the legendary novel Watership Down. In the aftermath of its posting, I was commissioned to write more tributes. Namely, tributes of the deceased cast members of the Watership Down television program, which ran from 1999-2001. This second tribute is dedicated to the memory of the famed English Comedian Rik Mayall, who played the voice of Kehaar on the show. Rik Mayall died of a heart condition on June 9, 2014. Today is the 4th anniversary of his passing, and it is my pleasure to present to you this humble offering to his memory.
Rik Mayall slipped on his favorite pair of running shoes, softly humming to himself as he prepared for his weekend jog. It was a beautiful summer day. At 56 years of age, he may not have been as young as he used to be, but still, nothing was more refreshing than a brisk jog through the parks and woods of the London borough. Stepping out his front door, Rik took in a deep breath of the sweet summer air. He closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of the sun on his face and the breeze in his hair.
Then, a sharp tingle in his chest snapped him out of his euphoria. He winced and rubbed his chest, they were becoming more frequent. He had done his best to keep it under wraps, only his family and closest confidantes knew the truth. After all, he was one of England's most explosive personalities, a firebrand rebel who lived life on his own terms. But the undeniable truth was that Rik Mayall was dying.
It had been diagnosed as a terminal condition, a gradually weakening of the heart that would continue until it completely failed. The doctor had been unable to give him a timeframe, but it would not be long. However, Rik had faced the situation with optimism. He had decided that he would live every moment to its fullest, no matter what, and he had done so.
Banishing all such depressing thoughts from his mind, he smiled. Today was not the day to brood on such things. A shrill cry caught his attention. He looked up. Across the street, perched in a large tree, was a small, white bird. A Black Headed Gull. Rik's smile grew. He had fond memories of Black Headed Gulls. They never failed to remind him of a special role he had once played, a long time ago. With one last glance at the gull, Rik stepped into the road and began to jog at a comfortable pace up the street. Had he looked behind him, he would have noticed the Black Headed Gull take flight, and follow him.
Rik jogged past blooming gardens and lively parks, and beautiful old homes that had stood for centuries. Yet, his mind kept traveling back to that simple white bird. The scenery faded away as he traveled back through time to when he had been a younger man in the flower of his career, many years ago.
He had been offered the role of Kehaar, the Black Headed Gull, on a television adaptation of Richard Adams legendary novel, Watership Down. Some of England greatest actors had starred in the show, and many of them had considered it a great honor, but to Rik it had just been another job, another addition to his illustrious career. At least, it had started that way. Slowly it became something more, something magical.
It was common knowledge that Rik Mayall was not a deep thinker, he had been a poor student in school before becoming a comedian, and his aggressive, boundary-pushing brand of comedy left little room for artistic appreciation.
Watership Down changed that forever. On the outside, he was still the same dynamic, irrepressible, comedian that he had always been. But he had never been quite the same since that show. Playing the role of Kehaar had been a fun and enjoyable experience, but it had also introduced him to a whole new world, a world far removed from the hard, profane reality of modern comedy, a world that was wholesome, pure, and beautiful.
He spent two years on the show, and to this day, had never told another soul how hard it had been to leave. Afterwards, Rik returned to the stage and things continued as before. But the seed planted in his heart by the simple, beautiful tale of Watership Down never left his heart. He even purchased a copy of the book, reading a chapter from time to time, wondering what his fans would think if it got out that modern comedic genius Rik Mayall picked up an actual book from time to time.
Chuckling at the memories, he ran on. Eventually, he reached the nature trail known as The Barnes Trail. The Barnes Trail was Rik's favorite part of his weekend run, alternating between picturesque Victorian townhouses and treelined paths leading through emerald fields.
After taking a moment to catch his breath, he started down the path. He had just just taken a few steps when, out of nowhere, a rabbit burst from the foliage and landed right in front of Rik. Rik skidded to a halt, almost tripping over the creature. The rabbit turned its head, and looked straight at Rik. For a micro second, Rik could have sworn that he saw a flash of recognition of those luminous black eyes. Then, the rabbit was gone, disappearing into the bushes on the other side of the trail. Rik shook his head, "What in the world was that?" he thought. After a moment, he shrugged, and continued down the trail. Above him, the Black Headed Gull continued to watch, following as close as it dared. It was almost time.
Rik continued to jog at a steady pace, drinking in the natural beauty around him. The contrast between his lovely surroundings and the smoky clubs and hot studios where he had spent most of his life was something that he had come to greatly appreciate.
Rik decided to kick things up a little, push himself a bit. After all, pushing boundaries was what he did for a living. Huffing and puffing, he increased his speed. Feeling reckless, he continued to push. Then, something snapped within him. It felt as if a hidden pool of energy had burst open. Rik went faster, and faster, and faster. The green fields and quaint houses passed by in a blur. Rik ran on, oblivious to everything except the energy surging through him. He laughed, feeling better than he had in a long time. Then, as quickly as it had come, it disappeared.
Finally, Rik stopped, heart pounding, legs burning, the air escaping his lungs in great gulping breaths. Suddenly, he realized with a start that he was standing in front of his house. He had been so caught up in his mysterious second wind that he had completed the rest of the run without realizing it. Rik stared at his beloved home. Somehow, it looked more warm and welcoming than it ever had before. It seemed to beckon him. A soft yet powerful breeze swept down from the sky, caressing him with its cool, comforting embrace. Rik stepped up to the door, grasped the knob, and swung it open.
Instantly, his chest exploded with agonizing pain, with a retching gasp he fell to his knees on the floor, completely paralyzed. His heart felt like it was on fire, sending flaming lances of pain shooting through his body. After a moment, the initial wave of agony receded a bit, but it did not abate. Through the mental haze, Rik realized what was happening. His heart was finally giving out, he was going to die.
A thousand thoughts ran through his head, so many that he almost forgot about the pain. He didn't want to die, but all men died. Yet, he had hoped that it would be a gentle passing, surrounded by family and friends. But no, he was going to die here, alone and uncomforted. The sadness in his heart grew until it matched the burning pain ravaging his body. The last of his strength left him. He crumpled to the floor, so weak that he could barely keep his eyes open.
Then, he heard it, the gentle flapping of wings. As his eyes closed, he caught a glimpse of a snow white feather. He felt the soft touch of a wing on his face. Instantly, cool, sweet relief flooded through him, quenching the tormenting fire. Then, he heard a voice. "Don't Vorry, meester Mayall, ve go home now." And Rik Mayall smiled, one last time.