His Colleagues Honor the Comedian, Scholar, and Naked Organ Player
Terry Jones, arguably the glue that held together the legendary comedy troupe Monty Python, died on January 21, 2020. He lost his battle with a degenerative aphasia, which had already robbed him of the ability to speak over time. But his work will continue to speak volumes about the absurdity of life.
Born in Wales in 1942, Jones attended Oxford University, where he entered into a lifelong friendship and fruitful writing partnership with fellow undergrad and future comedy legend Michael Palin. The two toiled as staff writers on British television for years before finally joining forces with Cambridge alums John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Eric Idle (as well as American transplant Terry Gilliam) to start Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969. The TV series lasted until 1974, and produced some of the most bizarre and hilarious sketch comedy ever. Hugely influential, Flying Circus helped inspire Saturday Night Live, The Kids In the Hall, and Key & Peele among others.
Jones was the driving force behind the Pythons’ next venture, as they invaded cinema with Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975). Jones shared directing duties with Gilliam, and took over the director’s chair for the next two films: Life of Brian in 1979 and The Meaning of Life in 1983. He also had a life outside of Python, as a respected literary scholar on aspects of medieval literature (he wrote the book Chaucer’s Knight, as well as pointed anti-War on Terror columns for British newspapers during the invasion of Iraq in 2003). But Python will be his most obvious legacy.
Reaction has been building on Twitter, with many comedians and even a Canadian prime minister and a heavenly deity chiming in. Justin Trudeau called him “ A beloved comedian, a brilliant writer & director, and a creative powerhouse.” John Oliver observed that Jones was simply “the absolute best,” while Paul Feig hoped that Jones was “happily playing the organ naked in a better place.”
Terry Jones is up here devouring all the spam he wants.
— God (@TheTweetOfGod) January 22, 2020
Other than Jones’s family, his surviving mates in Python who are probably going through this loss the most: Eric Idle talked about loving him “the moment I saw him on stage at the Edinburgh Festival in 1963,” while Palin simply offered a heartfelt thanks for the years of friendship. Gilliam says his fellow Terry was an “outrageously funny and generous and kind human being…and very often a complete pain in the ass.” John Cleese, in an echo of his eulogy of Chapman in 1989, observed that the score was now “two down, four to go.”
Terry Jones was seventy-seven years old.