Friends and admirers paid tribute to the comic actor Rik Mayall - star of shows such as The Young Ones and Bottom - who has died at the age of 56.

Adrian Edmondson, his long-time collaborator, said he felt privileged to have shared "carefree stupid days" with the friend he first met when they studied together at university.

Mayall's death was announced by his management firm and it is believed the star's wife found him at home in London earlier today.

He survived an almost fatal quad bike accident almost 16 years ago which left him in a coma for several days.

His career included appearances in shows including Blackadder and The New Statesman where he played t he conniving Conservative MP Alan B'Stard.

Edmondson, with whom he appeared frequently after they met as university students in Manchester, said: "There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he's died for real. Without me. Selfish b*****d."

Also praising Mayall - who was married with three children - was David Walliams, who said: "I am heartbroken that my comedy idol growing up, Rik Mayall, has died. He made me want to be a comedian."

Impressionist Rory Bremner called him "a fireball of creative comic energy and inspiration".

A Scotland Yard spokesman said officers were called by London Ambulance Service to a house in Barnes, south-west London, where "a man, aged in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the scene".

The death is not believed to be suspicious, he added.

Paying tribute, Blackadder producer John Lloyd said Mayall was "just extraordinary".

Speaking about the 1998 accident that nearly killed him, Ma yall said doctors had kept him alive on a life-support machine for five days and were about to turn it off when he began to show signs of life.

He used to mark the occasion by exchanging presents with his wife and children and said the near-death experience changed his life.

He said: " The main difference between now and before my accident is I'm just very glad to be alive.

"Other people get moody in their forties and fifties - men get the male menopause. I missed the whole thing. I was just really happy."

He started on stage in a duo, The Dangerous Brothers, with Edmondson and they went on to appear together as part of their breakthrough series The Young Ones, as well as reprising their original act in the anarchic comedy Bottom.

BBC director of television Danny Cohen said: "Rik Mayall was a truly brilliant comedian. His comic timing was outstanding and his screen presence unique. For a generation of viewers he was a true comedy hero."

Mayall, who was bo rn in Harlow, Essex, to drama teacher parents, also appeared in shows including Filth y Rich & Catflap.

One of his most recent roles was in Channel 4's Man Down, in which he played the father of comic Gregg Davies, with whom he bore an uncanny facial similarity.

Davies said: " He was my comedy hero. I could not believe that I got the opportunity to work with him and did not stop pinching myself throughout the filming. He was hilarious, warm and passionate on and off camera and being in his presence was always humbling."

Actress Helen Lederer, who appeared in The Young Ones, tweeted: "Rik Mayall, I loved you. Gutted. The man who taught me not to crash laughs, has crashed. Real love to wife, children. Massive loss."

Comedy star Noel Fielding wrote: "Growing up there was no-one funnier! We will really miss you Rik Mayall you genius."

Monty Python star Eric Idle said: " Very sad to hear of the passing of Rik Mayall. Far too young. A very funny and talented man."

Writing on Twitter, Bob M ortimer said: "Last time I saw him he grabbed my crotch and said 'Not eaten yet then?" So sad.. Funniest man of his generation."

Actress Gemma Jones, who starred with Mayall in ITV comedy All About George, said she had heard about his death only as she arrived for the premiere of her new film NOW: In The Wings On A World Stage.

"I literally just heard about that as I came here. I'm very sad because I worked with him on a television series. It's very sad because he was young."

She said his legacy will live on through his comedy shows. "I think The Young Ones will remain in everybody's minds of that generation," she added.

Ben Elton, another university contemporary, said: "I met Rik when I was 18 and his friendship and extraordinary comic talent have been an inspiration to me ever since.

"I owe him so much, he changed my life utterly when he asked me to co-write The Young Ones with him and he was with me on the day I met my wife. He always made me cry with laughter, now he's just made me cry."

Mayall's Young Ones co-star, Nigel Planer, told the BBC he was "very, very sad and upset that we've lost Rik, who was inspirational, bonkers, and a great life force".

He described Mayall as "a brilliant comedian and someone who made everyone else's lives more fun. He will be really, really missed".

Mayall's character in the comedy was a Cliff Richard loving student and in 1986 the pop star recorded a charity version of his hit single Living Doll with the show's lead actors for Comic Relief.

Sir Cliff said: "I became a fan of his when he was in The Young Ones show and was always thrilled when he used my name during his series.

"I am so sad at his parting."

Stephen Fry, who also starred in Blackadder, said on Twitter: "S imply distraught to hear of the death of Rik Mayall. An authentic comedy genius and a prince among men."