Terry Jones has died. Jones, a Welshman and founding member of the legendarily influential sketch comedy troupe Monty Python, was 77.
After the group’s initial BBC run on TV from 1969-1974, Jones co-directed their first feature film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with Terry Gilliam; Jones went on to direct the subsequent Python films, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life.
Though you might think of Graham Chapman as the star of Life of Brian as Brian, Jones scored two memorable roles for himself, too. First, as Brian’s mother, Mandy.
Jones also appears as a man who kept a vow of silence (and nudity) for 18 years in a hole, until Brian showed up.
In The Meaning of Life, Jones grabs the spotlight as the morbidly obese Mr. Creosote. “Get me a bucket.” Has anyone ever made vomit so gut-wrenchingly hilarious?
Jones last performed with his troupe in 2014, during their 10-show run at The O2 in London. He had some difficulty remembering his lines for those live shows. A year later, he’d be diagnosed with dementia. And when he received a special BAFTA Award in 2016, his son largely did the talking for him.
Jones, born Feb. 1, 1944, in Colwyn Bay on the west coast of Wales, moved to Surrey, England, with his family at a young age. Michael Palin met Jones at university at Oxford, where they first became writing partners.
Palin told the BBC of Jones: “He threw himself into things with such passion and such energy, and he really refused to take on things which didn’t excite him and which didn’t feel different from what else was around. Part of his warmth was his love of all sorts of things and comedies – he knew an awful lot about the silent film comedians. There were so many aspects to Terry, but I would say enthusiasm and passion were the two main words that described him best.”
Here’s more from Palin, on Sky News:
Eric Idle remembers first seeing Jones at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1963, when Jones would have been 21.
As a trio, they appeared alongside others in the British series, Do Not Adjust Your Set, from 1967-1969. They began working with John Cleese and Graham Chapman on The Frost Report for David Frost in 1966, before the five of them would do their own thing as Monty Python.
After Python, Jones wrote and directed a fantasy film in 1989, Erik the Viking, starring Tim Robbins. Many years later, he’d return to direct 2015’s Absolutely Anything, with Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale and the voices of Python’s members. Jones spoke about his process, and his lengthy break from filmmaking, in this video.
A happier Jones back in 1994 visited Late Night with Conan O’Brien, jokingly boasting about how of the four films banned in Ireland, Jones had made three of them!
Jones had first enjoyed history while reading at Oxford about Chaucer. He wrote multiple books about Chaucer, and in the 2000s, he put some of his love of history into TV with Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, and Terry Jones’ Barbarians; he earned an Emmy nomination for the former series.
I scored a couple of minutes with Jones in 2009 when Monty Python reunited in New York City to celebrate their 40th anniversary and the release of a new six-hour documentary about them for IFC called Monty Python Almost the Truth: The Lawyer’s Cut. Jones gave me an anecdote about one of his signature pieces.
“The thing was that we all respected each other’s work,” he told me. “The strength of the group was the internal criticism, and the ability to take criticism. If the rest of the group, if Michael and I had written a sketch we thought was really funny, and the others said, ‘No, it’s not funny,’ well, we thought, OK, it’s not funny. Actually, in fact, it happened with Mr. Creosote, the sketch in Meaning of Life, the fat man in the restaurant throwing up. We read that out, and everybody said it’s not funny. So we threw it on the reject pile. And about a month later, I think John phoned me up and said, ‘Hello, little plum. I’ll tell you something that’ll bring a smile to your face. I’ve just been re-reading the Mr. Creosote sketch. I think it’s quite funny.’ What John had realized was that the funny part was the waiter. Which he was going to play.”
Python would reunite one final time as a quintet in 2014 for those shows, billed as Monty Python Live (Mostly) or Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go.
Cleese, upon hearing the news today, wrote on Twitter: “It feels strange that a man of so many 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 Two down, four to go.”
Thankfully, we have so much of Jones and his work to look back on, to enjoy, and to cherish. He also documented so much of that period from behind the scenes, and we are grateful to him for that, too.
Rest in peace, Terry.