UC Berkeley student Adam Rice, known by many for his comedic flair, died Sunday while studying abroad at the University of Sussex. He was 21.
Rice was fatally injured in a traffic accident early Saturday morning. His parents traveled to England and were with him when he died Sunday afternoon. Rice was majoring in American studies and would have been a senior in the fall.
In addition to his academic talents, Emily Rice said her brother was a skilled musician, singer, actor and filmmaker who aspired to be a director and editor. She said Rice essentially taught himself to play the piano and could listen to any song or score from a movie and recreate it.
“I used to say I was glad I was the older sibling so I wouldn’t have to live up to him,” Emily Rice said.
Rice attended Rolling Hills Preparatory School in a residential community outside of Los Angeles, where he was known for his wit and work onstage. When he entered UC Berkeley as a freshman, he immediately joined the improvisation and sketch comedy group Jericho! Troupe mates called his onstage presence bold and passionate.
“People respected him so much that he was a leader straight from the beginning,” said Chris Severn, a UC Berkeley alumnus who was a senior and member of the group when Rice joined.
Geoff Kaufman, another member of the group and close friend of Rice’s, described him as a “true comedian” who electrified the crowd with his presence. Kaufman said the two took improvisation classes, taught a DeCal class on the subject and developed a mutual passion for the comedic art form.
The summer after their freshman year, Kaufman and Rice stayed in Los Angeles, taking classes and watching as many shows as they could. One day, in between their class and a show, the two had some spare time and decided to practice their skills offstage.
“Across the street from our favorite theater was the Church of Scientology’s Celebrity Center, so like the aspiring improvisers we were, we walked into the building pretending to be interested in the religion,” Kaufman said in an email. “Adam decided his character had the ulterior motive to get a high-paying job within the church, and went about the hour-long tour as if it was a job interview.”
Kaufman recalled the tour guide’s confusion and struggling to hold in his laughter. He said it was his favorite memory with Rice.
“I don’t remember exactly whose idea it was go in that day, but I suspect it was him,” Kaufman said in the email. “He was bold like that, and didn’t care about how others judged him.”
Alice Bebbington, a friend of Rice’s who joined Jericho! at the same time as he did, said his love for improvisation inspired others and made him an essential part of the tight-knit group.
“He owned the stage. He was totally comfortable in the spotlight and just dominated it, but outside of the stage, he was totally humble,” Severn said. “He was the most humble and down-to-earth guy, and that’s what made him special to me.”
Among his short films, Rice created a video about a satanic iPhone and imitated squirrels in another, which garnered appreciation from Jericho! troupe mates and members of the Berkeley community.
Emily Rice, who studied acting in college, said she felt fortunate to participate in a competitive improvisation show about a month ago in Los Angeles with her brother, Kaufman and Kaufman’s sister. She said they were able to win two weeks in a row.
The campus requested that Jericho! create a video welcoming new students to UC Berkeley, which Rice starred in and helped write and edit. Emily Rice said the video will solidify his legacy on campus.
“Adam is very well loved,” she said. “The outpour of love to me and to my parents — it’s just so clear how adored he was and rightly so.”