The fans who tried to save Robbie Rotten

Adults who were LazyTown fans as children made hundreds of memes to support actor Stefán Karl Stefánsson

22nd August 2018

If you were born in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s, you may well be familiar with a show called Lazy Town. The critically acclaimed Icelandic musical comedy, which encouraged children to lead a healthy lifestyle, ran from 2004 to 2014, garnering millions of fans over the course of its four seasons.

It’s fair to say the Nickelodeon hit is well-known for its odd aesthetic and punchy musical numbers, but there’s one song in particular that you may have heard. In 2016, We Are Number One became a viral sensation.

The song features villain Robbie Rotten encouraging children to be slothful and gluttonous and attempting to teach his team of evil accomplices how to catch protagonist Sporticus, an athletic superhero who insists he gets his abilities from eating “sports candy” (fruits and vegetables). It initially aired in 2014. Its revival two years later was due to some unfortunate news: Rotten’s performer Stefán Karl Stefánsson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

We Are Number One quickly amassed 46 million views on YouTube, and the memes poured in, in a show of support. There are now hundreds of different fan-made versions of the song on YouTube, usually in the style “We Are Number One but it’s…”, made to raise awareness for the actor who plays the candy-pushing outlaw.

I have no words to describe how thankful I am to all of you, my friends

A GoFundMe campaign, started by Lazy Town head writer Mark Valenti to help Stefánsson and his family get by when he became too ill to work, raised £169,670.

Stefánsson was moved enough by the show of support that, as a thank you, he made his own YouTube video: a recording of the Lazy Town cast performing We Are Number One live in their Reykjavik studio. It gained over six million views. Stefansson told fans to “keep memeing”.

Stefánsson had successful liver surgery in June 2017. The internet rejoiced in the knowledge that their memes had helped save a life, however, Stefánsson still had the disease and refused further treatment.

Stefánsson thanked donors, saying: “I have no words to describe how thankful I am to all of you, my friends. Your support and continuous thoughts, prayers and positive letters of encouragement have more to do with my success in the fight with cancer than you can imagine.”

In March 2018, Stefánsson was diagnosed with inoperable cholangiocarcinoma — bile duct cancer — and said that he was undergoing chemotherapy to prolong his life. The memes didn’t stop but, in April 2018, he announced that he chose to discontinue chemotherapy and stopped posting on his social media accounts.

He died on 21 August 2018 at the age of 43. His wife stated: “Per Stefan’s wishes, there will be no funeral. His earthly remains will be scattered in secrecy in a distant ocean.”

Fans had been unable to save Stefánsson but he died knowing he was still adored by thousands of grown-up kids around the world who still remember watching him on TV every day after school.

22nd August 2018