On August 21st, Icelandic actor Stefán Karl Stefánsson passed away after a two year fight with bile duct cancer. While he was celebrated throughout Iceland for his stand-up comedy and acting, around the world most would better recognise him as Robbie Rotten, the devious strong-chinned villain of the children’s show ‘LazyTown.’
The character of Robbie was known for his half-brained stunts against Stephanie and Sportacus, the energetic stars of the show. Robbie’s evil goal was to keep the residents of the town lazy—hence the name LazyTown—while Sportacus and Stephanie wanted them to do things like play sports and dance. In each episode, Robbie would create a wicked scheme, enact it, and after about 20 minutes, inevitably be thwarted by the exuberant duo.
In one such episode, Robbie sang a song entitled ‘We Are Number One’, a dramatic ditty where he attempted to teach three newbie Rottens how to be super-villains. While the episode came out in 2014, around 2016, the song resurfaced as a popular meme online. It started out with YouTube parodies. For example, someone would remake the music video but in Minecraft or Roblox. In other versions, they’d make an 8-bit cover of the instrumental or put heavy metal vocals on it. In one iteration, someone even strung together Barack Obama talking so it sounds like he was the number one supervillain. Of course though, he wasn’t. Robbie was.
It was around this time, almost exactly, that Stefán began to get sick. His family created a GoFundMe page for his medical costs, which was posted to meme communities across the internet. Fans swarmed the pages, eventually donating almost $170,000 of its $80,000 goal.
It was then that Stefán became aware of his meme-status. While many celebrities refuse to acknowledge when they’ve become memes, or are just very much embarrassed by it, Stefán embraced his role as the Best. He created a Twitter account and became active in the community, interacting with fans graciously. He was so happy to be Rotten that on December 11th of that year, he performed a reenactment of “We Are Number One,” which had 50,000 people watching live online.
Later, another song of his, “You Are A Pirate,” also gained meme status, but more importantly, Robbie as a character became a meme in itself. For example, one meme has a picture of Robbie with the title above it, “Robbie Rotten.” Next to it is another picture of Robbie, except with the SnapChat dog filter. The title? “Robbie Thotten.” Ha!
A few months later, Robbie Rotten was voted the “Meme Of The Year” in the r/dankmemes subreddit, one of the biggest meme subreddits around. If you’re above the age of 30, these words probably mean nothing, but trust us, it means Robbie Rotten was basically lolcatz.
Over the next two years, Stefán battled with his sickness, but not alone—his meme community fans were right by his side. In August, 2017, Stefán reported that he was free of cancer. Immediately, the r/memeeconomy subreddit was filled with fresh material. For reference, this is a subreddit that mimics the economy, where you can buy, sell, share, and invest in memes. Being popular on this site basically means that at that time, meme-lovers determined that Robbie Rotten stocks were still up and running for devoted meme traders. This was basically their way of showering the actor with love.
Always in our hearts
One year later, Stefán Karl succumbed to cancer. Instantly, wholesome memes about him flooded the internet along with well-wishes and notes of sympathy. On r/dankmemes, the mod posted that for the next 24 hours, all memes had to be about Stefán Karl. But it was more than just the danksters, the entire front page of Reddit was covered with beautiful tributes to the actor. From serious subreddits to ironic ones, everyone wanted to show their appreciation.
For example, one 4-panel meme had Robbie Rotten in hell. He says, “It’s time to go. Was I a good man?” The Grim Reaper responds, “No.” Then, in the next panel, he continues, “I’m told you were the best.” Another has a boy pointing to a map. Where is France? He points to France. Where is Brazil? He points to Brazil. Where is Stefán Karl Stefánsson? He points to his heart.
The same day, a change.org petition was created calling for a statue of Stefán Karl to be built in Hafnarfjöður, his hometown. In 24 hours, it had garnered 141,360 signatures. At press time, it had 449,870. For reference, only around 28,000 people live in Hafnarfjörður.
The love surrounding Karl was so great that when a fake Buzzfeed article started circling the internet the next day, entitled, “24 Reasons Why Stefán Karl Stefánsson Is Actually Number 2,” another change.org petition was then created, called “Make buzzfeed illegal for slandering Robbie Rotten.”
Over the next few days, Stefán’s death took over the Youtube sphere. Pewdiepie, the most subscribed to user in Youtube’s history, covered his death, as did essentially every other popular daily creator. Since then, the meme has continued to live on, finding new iterations and crossovers as other memes are created and reborn.
While he may not be with us anymore, Stefán Karl will forever be the Best super-villain around. In our hearts, and in our memes, he was, and will forever be, number one.