Stefan Karl Stefansson, the beloved actor known for portraying Robbie Rotten in LazyTown, has died from cancer.
A spokesperson for Stefansson’s family told TMZ that the actor died Tuesday while surrounded by friends and family after battling bile duct cancer for almost two years. He was 43 years old. He is survived by his wife, Steinunn Þorsteinsdóttir, as well as his four children.
“Per Stefan’s wishes, there will be no funeral. His earthly remains will be scattered in secrecy in a distant ocean,” Þorsteinsdóttir said in a statement sent to PEOPLE. “Stefan’s family wants to express their gratitude for the support and warmth received in recent years, and to express their deepest sympathy to the many friends and fans of Stefan Karl.”
Stefansson has become world famous for portraying the villainous Robbie Rotten from the popular TV show LazyTown, with his performance in one of the show’s musical segments becoming one of the biggest memes of 2016. He also founded a leading anti-bullying organization as well as a company that grows micro greens for restaurants.
Here’s everything you need to know:
1. Stefansson Battled Cancer for Nearly Two Years
In September 2016, Stefansson was hospitalized and diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then in May 2017, his cancer relapsed and he had two masses removed from his liver. In June 2017, he was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma – bile-duct cancer – which had reached stage four.
“Although the chances and statistics are not in our favor, and Stefán’s candle burns quickly, we will not be scared of fear,” said Þorsteinsdóttir at the time.
A GoFundMe page was set up in October 2016 to help raise funds for Stefansson after he became too ill to work. The campaign raised $169,670 before it closed.
People have taken to social media to pay tribute to Stefansson:
2. He Was in Remission for Over Two Months
In August 2017, Stefansson announced that he was in remission. Stefansson told RUV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, that he was free from cancer for the time being after undergoing two surgeries (as translated by batteries-included on Reddit).
“The damn disease is gone,” he said. “Until it comes back, whenever that will be, which will hopefully be never. Life is now. It’s almost a miracle that I’m still here.”
Stefansson later posted on his GoFundMe page to clarify a few things about his remission. He wrote that he was free of cancer metastases, or cancer that spreads to different parts of the body from where it originated according to Cancer.net, after a successful liver surgery in June 2017 performed by Kristin Huld Haraldsdottir and Sigurdur Blöndal at the Icelandic University Hospital. They found the third metastasis during the surgery and removed it.
However that didn’t mean he was completely free of cancer. He refused any further adjuvant therapy including chemotherapy because there was only a very slim chance of it doing any good and may in fact just make him more sick. He promised to keep everyone posted and told his fans to cross their fingers and keep thinking of him.
…I’m here for you just like you are there for me. By standing together we stand stronger, as you have proved so often with your amazing letters, GoFundMe support and prayers. Me and my family are so thankful to you all, and we always will be.
He said he received the best medicine available and the home care he needed thanks to the support from his fans. He even planned to go back on stage at the National Theatre of Iceland for their production of Stones in His Pocket, but only for 10 shows.
In November 2017, Stefansson found out that there were two new metastases in his liver.
3. Stefansson is Best Known as the Actor who Played Robbie Rotten in LazyTown
Stefansson was born on July 10, 1975 in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland, according to The Sun. He graduated from the Icelandic Academy of Arts in Reykjavik and worked as an actor with the National Theatre of Iceland.
He and Þorsteinsdóttir married on December 29, 2002 and had four children together while living in San Francisco. Þorsteinsdóttir is a US Citizen and Stefansson had a green card.
Stefansson was best known for portraying the character of Robbie Rotten in LazyTown, which ran on Nickelodeon and other networks from 2004 to 2014. He was in the project since 1999 when it started out as just a theatre production. Robbie Rotten was the show’s eccentric antagonist who tried to revert the town of LazyTown to its old, lazy ways as hero Sportacus tried to shape up the town’s residents. The show has won and been nominated for many prestigious awards, including winning the BAFTA Children’s Award for Best International Show in 2006.
On a Reddit AMA, he said that it took him two and a half hours every day to put on his makeup including the latex prosthetics for his character’s chin and eyebrows. He also said that his favorite song to perform on the show was “You Are a Pirate” and that a lot of the jokes that made it in the show were created during improvisation between takes. He also gave some acting advice:
There is no difference in preparing for Robbie Rotten or any classical serious role…. ;) Every part you prepare for you have to be honest and truthful and wholly believe that the character exists – otherwise no one will accept your acting. Kids are a demanding audience and they KNOW when something is untruthful.
He didn’t just perform as Robbie Rotten, however. According to IMDB, Stefansson has performed in multiple different movies, TV, and theatre.
At the National Theatre, he performed as Cosmo Brown in Singin’ in the Rain, Lloyd Douglas in Noises Off, and Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream. He also portrayed the Dentist in Little Shop of Horrors with The Reykjavik City Theatre. He portrayed the Grinch in Running Subway Productions’ production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas the Musical, which first premiered at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, California on November 14, 2009, and has gone on to tour in nine cities throughout the country according to the Los Angeles Times.
He played the singing sheep farmer in the popular Icelandic feature comedy Stella Runs for Office as well as contributed voice work for Night at the Museum and Thor.
He won the Thorbjorn Egner Honorary Award for his work at the National Theatre of Iceland in 2000.
4. His Performance of “We Are Number One” Became One of the Biggest Memes of 2016
On October 3, 2014, LazyTown’s 107th episode called “Robbie’s Dream Team” aired. The episode sees Robbie Rotten ordering three clones of himself to take down Sportacus together. However, the clones need to be taught how to become villains, and Robbie teaches them by singing the episode’s song We Are Number One.
After YouTuber SilvaGunner posted a video remixed version of the song as well as a follow up in September 2016, a wave of remixes of the music video flooded YouTube, according to Know Your Meme. The meme further took off after Stefansson’s cancer diagnosis, with the videos promoting his GoFundMe page.
Here are some examples of the meme below:
Robbie Rotten was awarded the Meme of the Year 2016 by popular Subreddit r/dankmemes.
Stefansson acknowledged the meme in his Reddit AMA and subsequently created an event for a live Facebook video of him performing the song with the original cast in December 2016. He also thanked the community for the creative videos they made with the song and said he loved every single one of them. He also thanked those who donated to his GoFundMe page. He also introduced the audience to Mani Svavarsson, the composer of the song, who explained how he created it. He also answered questions about the show from the audience.
The original livestream had over 50,000 people watching. The upload on YouTube has over 6,200,000 views at the time of writing.
5. He Started an Anti-Bullying Organization & a Company that Grows Microgreens
Stefansson was the founder and president of the Regnbogaborn (Rainbow-Children). According to his LinkedIn page, the nonprofit organization “has become the leading Icelandic anti-bullying organization for children, teens, educators and parents. Rainbow-Children focuses on prevention, education and personal outreach to stem the growing tide of bullying against children.”