This week, Iceland lost one of its greatest and most well-known actors: Stefán Karl Stefánsson. If you don’t have children or don’t follow memes, you may have only heard his name in passing. However, Stefán Karl was indeed an inspiration to not only Icelandic children, but to children around the world. On Tuesday, Stefán’s wife took to social media to inform saddened fans across the globe that he had passed away. Let’s take a brief look at the man who helped anchor one of the most popular children’s shows ever, and also the man who bravely fought a terrible disease till the very end of his life.
Stefán was born and raised in the village of Hafnarjordur to a working-class family. He would eventually enroll in the Icelandic Academy of the Arts. Soon after his graduation from Iceland’s premier art academy, he decided to join the National Theatre located here, in Reykjavik. Stefán would receive renown for his comedic performances on TV, while simultaneously earning praise for his work in drama. He was a talented performer and his abilities in the arts were profound and broad.
His big break came in the form of his incredibly funny New Year’s Eve comedy hour which aired here in Iceland. This is where many people believe he came up with the character of Robbie Rotten for his hit TV show. Then in 1999, Stefán’s life would forever change after he introduced the world to his character Robbie Rotten.
LazyTown is first and foremost the brainchild of Icelandic writer, athlete, and actor Magnús Scheving. In the early 90s, Magnús realized that Iceland’s children did not have positive influences for staying healthy and active. In 1991, he decided to write and publish a book for children about the benefits of being healthy. Magnús himself sought to make a change due to his athletic background. The book became wildly popular, and it was eventually adapted into a musical. This musical ran for three years, before Stefán’s lovable villain Robbie Rotten was ever introduced. After that, the show took off.
Successful United States television company Nickelodeon approached creators and Stefán about their very own show on the channel. The cast and creators agreed, and production began right here in Reykjavik in the early 2000s. Right from its inception, the show was a hit. Children became enthralled with the lovable characters, especially the villain of the show, Robbie Rotten. This is entirely due to Stefán’s otherworldly performance. The original character that he created was charming, devious, lovable, and most importantly he seemed genuine.
For ten years, Stéfan brought laughter into children’s lives through his character Robbie Rotten. Not only that, but the show itself has been a great role model for all of the kids who watch it. The premise of the show, LazyTown, is a small town where its residents begin to feel lethargic and lazy. Sportacus, Magnús Scheving’s character, along with Stefanie, seek to educate the town’s residents on the importance of eating healthy foods and exercise. All the while Robbie Rotten, a character who likes to nap and stay inside, attempts to foil their plans. The show is unique, funny, and light-hearted. And, it taught a whole generation of children the importance of making healthy and responsible decisions.
Off The Screen
Stefán Karl off the screen had a passion for trying to help children and changing the worst aspects of our society. As a boy, he struggled with bullying due to his OCD and ADD. The pain of his struggles with bullying stuck with him his entire life. So, as soon as he had the financial resources, he created Rainbow Children, a nonprofit organization, whose mission was to prevent and educate children and parents on how to stop and avoid bullying. The program eventually shutdown in 2014, but while it was open, it was regarded as a powerful organization that fostered a lot of change through Iceland, Canada, and the United States.
Stefán kept enjoying success on and off the screen until his life dramatically changed in October of 2016. Stefán confided to his closet friends that he had been diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, an aggressive cancer, at the age of 41. His friends took action and created a GoFund Me page to help alleviate the financial burden of his medical bills. Once word of it spread around the internet, the crowdfunding reached its goal almost instantly. Hundreds of thousands of people rallied around Stefán. It seemed as though his surgery had been a success, but eventually, the cancer came back and reared its ugly head. Last April, Stefán announced to through Instagram and Twitter that he had decided to stop chemotherapy, shut down his social media, and spend as much time with his family as possible. On Tuesday his wife informed various news outlets that he had died surrounded by loved ones.
Remembering Stefán Karl Stefánsson
It is important that we reflect on Stefan’s life for many reasons, least of which have to do with the popularity of the show he was on. Stefan stands as a testament to pure will and courage. At the age of 41, after receiving a diagnosis of a disease that has a 1 percent survival rate and kept on living for two years. That in and of itself is a feat. He spent untold amounts of his own money to fund a non-profit organization to help children who suffered from bullying. And finally, he brought laughter and happiness to millions of children every day. Additionally, the show he worked so hard on taught kids how to live healthy lifestyles. Stefán may be known on the internet by the funny memes and videos his fans created in tribute to him, but he was much more than that. He served as a role model for people everywhere.