Mon. Feb 24th, 2020

Terry Jones, ‘Monty Python’ Co-Founder and British Comedy Icon, Dies at 77

LONDON - MAY 3: Terry Jones, Welsh actor, writer, comedian, screenwriter and film director. He was a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe. Jones poses at his home in Hampstead, London wearing a pair of Union Jack flag pants, on May 3, 2005. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

Terry Jones, a founding member of Monty Python and a beloved comedian, screenwriter, film director, poet, historian and author, has died. He was 77.

LONDON – MAY 3: Terry Jones, Welsh actor, writer, comedian, screenwriter and film director. He was a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe. Jones poses at his home in Hampstead, London wearing a pair of Union Jack flag pants, on May 3, 2005. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

His agent confirmed his death to the BBC. He had been suffering from dementia, which was revealed publicly by his son, Bill, in September 2016. It left him unable to speak.

“We are deeply saddened to have to announce the passing of beloved husband and father, Terry Jones,” his family said in a statement.

“Terry passed away on the evening of 21 January 2020 at the age of 77 with his wife Anna Soderstrom by his side after a long, extremely brave but always good humoured battle with a rare form of dementia, FTD.

“Over the past few days his wife, children, extended family and many close friends have been constantly with Terry as he gently slipped away at his home in North London. We have all lost a kind, funny, warm, creative and truly loving man whose uncompromising individuality, relentless intellect and extraordinary humour has given pleasure to countless millions across six decades.” 

Renowned for his depictions of middle-aged housewives, often with hysterically falsetto voices, it was Jones who would famously scream the iconic line, “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy,” while playing mother to the titular not-quite-son-of-god in 1979 comedy Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which he also directed. The line twice was voted the funniest in film history in U.K. polls.

Although rarely receiving the same acclaim as Monty Python’s other members, Jones also was widely regarded within the group as its underrated but passionate heart, known for his good-natured enthusiasm and a deep well of intelligence across a broad range of subjects.

Born in North Wales, Jones read English at Oxford University, where he met his long-term collaborator and friend, Michael Palin. The two would star together in the college’s comedy troupe The Oxford Revue, and after graduation, they appeared in the 1967 TV sketch comedy Twice a Fortnight.

Two years later, they created The Complete and Utter History of Britain, which featured comedy sketches from history as if TV had been around at the time. It was on the show Do Not Adjust Your Set where they would be introduced to fellow comic Eric Idle, who had starred alongside John Cleese and Graham Chapman in productions mounted by the Cambridge University theatrical club the Footlights.  

The five — together with Terry Gilliam, whom Cleese had met in New York — would quickly pool their talents for a new show. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was born and ran on the BBC for four seasons between 1969-74, with Jones driving much of the show’s early innovation.

Among his most famous performances in the series was as an inept, bumbling cardinal in the Spanish Inquisition (seen wearing a leather WWI pilot’s hat and goggles); a member of the Hell’s Grannies, a marauding group of old women terrorizing the streets of London; an overly apologetic French waiter in a sketch involving a dirty fork; a Yorkshireman who had to “get up out of the shoebox in the middle of the night and lick the road clean with our tongues;” and as a nude piano player with an erratic face in scenes often used to break up sketches.

After the TV show ended, Jones co-directed with Gilliam the troupe’s first big-screen outing, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), in which Jones also played, among a bevy of roles, Sir Bedevere the Wise, Prince Herbert (“Father, I just want to sing!”) and a member of the dreaded Knights who say “Ni.”

For Life of Brian (1979) and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983), Jones took on sole directing duties, having amicably agreed with Gilliam that his approach was better suited to the group’s performing style.

Away from the Pythons, Jones would keep directing, helming the comedy Personal Services (1987), the all-star comedy-fantasy Erik the Viking (1989) and The Wind in the Willows (1996) while turning back to TV for episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles on ABC and the British comedy series Ripping Yarns, which he created with Palin.

A vocal opponent of the Iraq War, Jones contributed editorials to British newspapers The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Observer condemning the conflict and the U.K.’s involvement in it. Many of his articles were published in the 2004 book Terry Jones’s War on the War on Terror.

Jones’ most recent work included the 2012 film A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, which was co-directed by his son Bill and in which he, naturally, played Chapman’s mother. He also returned to the director’s chair for the sci-fi comedy Absolutely Anything (2014), featuring the voices of Palin, Gilliam, Cleese, Idle and, in his final movie role, Robin Williams. (It was the first film to feature all living Python members since The Meaning of Life.)

Jones also reunited with his fellow comics one final time on stage in 2014 for Monty Python Live (Mostly), held in London’s O2 arena and intended as a one-off until popular demand saw nine extra dates added.

Jones also is survived by his second wife, Anna Soderstrom, and their daughter Siri, who was born in 2009, alongside his two children from his first marriage.

Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett

Photographs are Courtesy:   BBC

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