The children’s show LazyTown aired its last episode in 2014, but years later, the educational program about getting physically active found a second life on the internet. Memes about its over-the-top characters abounded, but when actor Stefán Karl, who played LazyTown villain Robbie Rotten, was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, fans went into hyperdrive. If life was threatening to take away their favorite childhood villain, they reasoned, they might as well celebrate him as much as they could.
Robbie Rotten memes exploded online. For the online set, Rotten was the underdog of the show — flawed, but infinitely relatable. While Sportacus, LazyTown’s hero, encouraged kids to live healthier lifestyles, Robbie Rotten was a jealous man who loved junk food, watching TV, and coming up with schemes. The average person probably has more in common with Robbie Rotten than they do the muscular and seemingly perfect Sportacus.
The leading joke about Robbie Rotten turned out to be a catchy song from the show titled “We Are Number One,” where Rotten tries his best to teach a squad of lookalikes how to be evil. As of this writing, the official video has 48 million views on YouTube, not counting the many reuploads, offshoots, and reimaginings of the meme.
As Karl’s profile online increased, fans got more involved in the actor’s life. His LazyTown costars set up a GoFundMe in 2016, and fans raised over $169,000 to help Karl’s recovery after a cancer-related surgery. Later, Karl continued to update fans on social media, where he revealed that his fight against cancer was not over. In September 2017, Karl’s cancer progressed to stage 4, and his options for treatment became limited. “Please know that Stefan reads and enjoys your memes, artwork and good wishes,” wrote a friend of Karl’s on Reddit. “He knows how you feel about him and he feels the same toward you.”
Unfortunately, on August 21st, Karl died of cancer at age 43, survived by four children and his wife, Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir. “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,” she wrote on Facebook.
For fans, Karl’s death is not yet the end of the story. Immediately after the news hit the web last week, many visited Karl’s personal YouTube page to write mournful messages to the actor. “Rip Stefan,” one commenter wrote. “You were a villain, but you died a hero <3.”
“Come on guys, give him 1 million subscribers, he deserves it.”
One of the last things Karl uploaded to his channel 10 months ago was an update video where the Icelandic actor unboxed a silver play button, a plaque that YouTube sends creators after they reach 100,000 subscribers. “Yehoo,” Karl hooted. “Next, we need the gold button, and for that, we need 1 million subscribers. So click subscribe,” he said with a laugh.
Karl never got to a million subscribers during his lifetime, but fans aren’t giving up. Instead, they’ve launched a campaign to get people to subscribe to Karl’s YouTube channel en masse, in the hopes of pushing the actor past the golden number. It’s not fully about the subscriber count, though. What fans want is for the family to receive the plaque as one last thank you from the fans.
Sure enough, since Karl’s death, his personal YouTube channel has started to grow exponentially. Where before, Karl averaged under 100 subscribers a day, in the last week, his daily gain has ranged anywhere from 11,000 to more than 100,000 additions. The total has jumped from around 205,000 earlier this month to a whopping 743,000 as of this writing. The campaign will likely reach its goal by the end of the week.
“Come on guys, give him 1 million subscribers, he deserves it,” one commenter wrote. “Everybody subscribe to Stefan so his family can get a gold play button as one of the final gifts from the internet,” another said. “Who keeps coming back to see if he reaches 1 mil?” reads another comment. “RIP Legend # 1.”