Terry Jones, a founding member of Monty Python and a beloved comedian, screenwriter, film director, poet, historian and author, has died. He was 77.
Jones 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.
Although rarely receiving the same acclaim as Monty Python’s other members, Jones as 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.
A biographer once commented that should you speak to Jones “on subjects as diverse as fossil fuels, or Rupert Bear, or mercenaries in the Middle Ages or Modern China … in a moment you will find yourself hopelessly out of your depth, floored by his knowledge.”
The Hollywood Reporter did an exhaustive profile of Jones with the announcement:
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 and 1974, with Jones driving much of the show’s early innovation.
Among his most famous performances in the series were Jones 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 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 other 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.
Meanwhile, Jones was becoming a prolific children’s author. Between 1981 and 2002, he published 20 fiction novels, including Fairy Tales — selected by Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen as one of his five best children’s stories of all time — and The Saga of Erik the Viking, from which the film Erik the Viking was loosely based. Jones also wrote the first draft of the early script for Jim Henson’s David Bowie-starring cult adventure fantasy Labyrinth (1986), and despite the screenplay going through several rewrites, received the film’s sole screenwriting credit.
Jones 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.
Everyone at Bleeding Fool offers our most sincere condolences to Mr. Jones’ family, friends, and fans.