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Influential British comic Mel Smith dies

LONDON -- Actor and writer Mel Smith, a major force in British comedy whose evening news parody anticipated hits such as "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," died Friday of a heart attack, his agent said Saturday. He was 60.

Smith shot to fame along with his partner-in-comedy Griff Rhys Jones in "Not the Nine O'Clock News," whose takedown of earnest BBC newscasts, talk shows and commercials would influence a generation of comedians.

"We probably enjoyed ourselves far too much, but we had a roller coaster of a ride along the way. Terrific business. Fantastic fun, making shows. Huge parties and crazy times," Jones said. "Mel was always ready to be supportive. Nobody could have been easier to work with."

The pair's sketch show was a watershed, laying the ground for current affairs spoofs such as the "The Day Today" and, much later, America's "The Daily Show." It also featured a generation of comedians, including "Mr. Bean" actor Rowan Atkinson and actress Pamela Stephenson. Smith and Jones' company, Talkback Productions, nursed other British comedic greats, including Sacha Baron Cohen's character Ali G.

Born in London, Smith was directing plays by age 6. He studied experimental psychology at Oxford, directing productions at the Oxford Playhouse and performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

It was after he was invited by producer John Lloyd to join the "Not the Nine O'Clock News," which launched in 1979, that he met Jones, who would join him in comedy partnerships for decades to come, including the sketch show "Alas Smith and Jones," which ran through the 1980s.

Smith directed films including "Bean -- The Ultimate Disaster Movie." His acting credits include the cult hit "The Princess Bride."

Agent Michael Foster said Smith died Friday at his home in London. He is survived by his wife, Pam. -- AP

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