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Terry Jones founding member of the Monty Python

Terry Jones (1942–2020), founding member of the Monty Python team

by Linnea Crowther

Terry Jones was a founding member of the Monty Python comedy team, who brought absurd humor to the world with their “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” TV sketch show and several movies. Jones directed those films — “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” and “Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.” He appeared in them too, as well as in non-Python films including “Jabberwocky” and “L.A. Story.” It was Jones who was responsible for a key piece of the tone of “Flying Circus,” the show’s tendency to skip punchlines to sketches in favor of ending abruptly or wandering dreamily to a new story in a stream-of-consciousness way. Jones was also a medieval historian and an author of children’s books.

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Died: January 21, 2020 (Who else died on January 21?)


Details of death: Died of dementia at home in London at the age of 77.

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Jones’ characters: Jones was known as the Python most likely to appear in drag, frequently playing what he called “screechy middle-aged women.” One of the most famous was his “Life of Brian” character, Brian’s mother, Mandy, who berated Brian’s followers: “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” In “Meaning of Life,” Jones played Mr. Creosote, the enormous man who ate gluttonously at a restaurant until, after a final “wafer-thin” mint, he exploded. His Sir Bedevere in “The Holy Grail” instructed the peasants on how to identify a witch. He recited a spam-filled menu as the waitress in the famous “Spam” sketch, he was an incompetent policeman tracking the notorious Snapper Brothers, and he was an irritated gentleman in “Nudge Nudge.” Jones also appeared between sketches on “Flying Circus,” dressed only in a collar and tie while playing an organ.

Writer, director, and more: Jones wrote for Monty Python — including the classic “Lumberjack Song” — but he also wrote and directed beyond his work with the comedy troupe. He wrote an early draft of the 1986 Jim Henson film “Labyrinth,” which was largely changed by the time it made it to the screen. He both wrote and directed “Erik the Viking” (1989), “The Wind in the Willows” (1996), and “Absolutely Anything” (2015). Jones was a well-respected medieval historian, who wrote several history books and presented documentaries including “Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives” and “Terry Jones’ Barbarians.” He was also a prolific author of children’s books, including “The Saga of Erik the Viking,” which won the Children’s Book Award in 1984.

Notable quote: “My big hero is Buster Keaton because he made comedy look beautiful. He didn’t say, ‘Oh, it’s comedy, so we don’t need to bother about the way it looks.’ The way it looks is crucial, particularly because we were doing silly stuff. It has to have an integrity to it.” —from the book “Monty Python Speaks!”

What people said about him: “It feels strange that a man of such talents and such endless enthusiasm, should have faded so gently away… Of his many achievements, for me the greatest gift he gave us all was his direction of Life of Brian. Perfection.” —Python star John Cleese

“Terry was one of my closest, most valued friends. He was kind, generous supportive, and passionate about living life to the full. He was far more than one of the funniest writer-performers of his generation., he was the complete Renaissance comedian – writer, director, presenter, historian, brilliant children’s author, and the warmest, most wonderful company you could wish to have.” —Python star Michael Palin

“36 years ago I met Terry Jones. I was meant to interview him. I asked for team so he opened a bottle of Chablis and got me drunk. He was funny, brilliant, and honest…. Rest in Peace, Terry. You were an inspiration.” —author Neil Gaiman

“Farewell, Terry Jones. The great foot has come down to stamp on you. My god what pleasure you gave, what untrammeled joy and delight. What a wonderful talent, heart and mind.” —actor and comedian Stephen Fry

 “Remember showing my kid Monty Python for the first time a few years ago. His review, through one of his little shoulder shaking laughs: ‘It’s like they’re deliberately trying to say the most stupid thing possible!’ We’ll miss you Terry Jones.” —comedian Frankie Boyle

“The magnificent Terry Jones has died. It is the only thing he ever did that wasn’t funny. Thank you for my gloriously misspent youth, sir. And Godspeed.” —writer and director Christopher McQuarrie

Full obituary: The Washington Post

Related lives:

  • Neil Innes (1944–2019), Monty Python who co-created the Rutles
  • Eartha Kitt (1927–2008), actress and singer who starred in Jones’ “Erik the Viking”
  • David Bowie (1947–2016), star of “Labyrinth”

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