LONDON — Terry Jones, a founding member of the anarchic Monty Python troupe who was hailed by colleagues as “the complete Renaissance comedian” and “a man of endless enthusiasms,” has died at age 77 after suffering from dementia.
Jones’ family said he died Tuesday evening at his home in London “after a long, extremely brave but always good humoured battle with a rare form of dementia.”
“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,” Jones’ wife, Anna Soderstrom, and children Bill, Sally and Siri, said in a statement.
Born in Wales in 1942, Jones attended Oxford University, where he began writing and performing with fellow student Michael Palin.
After leaving university, he wrote for seminal 1960s comedy series, including The Frost Report and Do Not Adjust Your Set. At the end of the decade he and Palin, along with Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam, formed Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The troupe’s irreverent humour — a blend of satire, surrealism and silliness — helped revolutionize British comedy.
“Terry was one of my closest, most valued friends. He was kind, generous, supportive and passionate about living life to the full,” Palin said.
“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,” Palin said.
Jones wrote and performed for the troupe’s TV series, which aired for five years on the BBC, and films including Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1975 and Monty Python’s Life of Brian in 1979.
Playing the mother of Brian, a hapless young man who is mistaken for Jesus, he delivered one of the Pythons’ most famous lines: “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”
A more understated presence than the 1.95-metres Cleese or the energetic Idle, Jones was a deft comic performer, who played many of the Pythons’ female characters. He was also, among many other incarnations, a grinning nude organist, Spanish Inquisitor Cardinal Biggles and the explosively gluttonous restaurant patron Mr. Creosote.
Cleese tweeted: “It feels strange that a man of so many talents and such endless enthusiasm, should have faded so gently away…”
He added: “Two down, four to go,” a reference to the six members of the troupe. Chapman died of cancer in 1989.
As well as performing, Jones co-directed Holy Grail with Gilliam, and directed Life of Brian and the 1983 Python film The Meaning of Life.
Life of Brian was considered daring — and was even banned in some areas — for its biblical satire. The film’s crucifixion scene, which featured Idle performing the cheeky song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, cemented Jones’ reputation as a daring director with an absurdist sense of humour.