The many faces of the brilliant Terry Jones
Damn. Terry Jones - director, author, Chaucer scholar, Spam Lady, co-founder of the surreal, mordant, stubbornly and gleefully weird Monty Python, its "guardian spirit" and "the beating heart of it all” - has died at 77 after what his family called "a long, extremely brave but always good humored battle with a rare form of dementia." Jones attended Oxford University, where he met Michael Palin; together they wrote and performed for several British programs before joining with John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman and animator Terry Gilliam to create the BBC show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The chaotic, satirical, frequently rude, occasionally tasteless, almost always brilliant marvel that skewered anything that caught its merciless eye, from silly-walking ministers and bureaucratic blowhards to cheeseless cheese shops and fraudulent ex-parrots, ran only from 1969 to 1974 - astonishingly, given its now-iconic status.
Jones, often along with Palin, wrote much of the show's lunatic material and also performed, often inexplicably in drag. He also wrote and directed their feature films: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Meaning of Life and Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a no-holds-or-taboos-barred satire about a clueless messiah that horrified church leaders around the world. He also played Brian’s cranky mother; in his most memorable scene, after finding the hapless Brian with a woman, she squawks to his adoring, assembled worshippers, "He's not the messiah - he’s a very naughty boy!” He once described Python's members as working from a deeply democratic, if wildly simplistic, principle: “If all six of us laughed at something," they'd use it.
After Python's heyday, Jones worked on a wide variety of projects. He made a TV series with Palin and a documentary series on medieval history, directed several films, became a respected Chaucer scholar, wrote almost 20 children’s books, and contributed multiple op-ed pieces for The Guardian denouncing the Iraq War and other imperial follies. In 2016, he revealed he'd been diagnosed with the rare frontotemporal dementia, which, cruelly in his case, robs victims of speech. He dealt with his illness in a typically forthright manner, sometimes stopping people to tell them his frontal lobe had "absconded." He later did an interview with Palin to educate the public about the illness, and accepted a BAFTA award in an emotional appearance, speaking only to tell the cheering crowd, "Quieten down."
At news of Jones' death, many fans and colleagues took to Twitter to mourn, crack wistfully wise and celebrate "you brilliant, funny, Chaucer-loving, bare-arse piano playing, one last wafer-mint eating mofo." Some, ever hopeful, speculated he wasn't really dead but was just pining for the fjords. "The great foot has come down to stamp on you," wrote Stephen Fry. "My god what pleasure you gave, what untrammelled joy and delight." John Cleese lamented that "a man of so many talents and such endless enthusiasm should have faded so gently away," and dryly referenced Graham Chapman's 1989 death with, "Two down, four to go." Christopher McQuarrie panned Jones' death as "the only thing he ever did that wasn't funny," adding, "Thank you for my gloriously misspent youth, Sir. And Godspeed." We echo him.
Young Jones. Photo by Chris Ridley/ Radio Times via Getty
Terry Jones was a true polymath. Actor, writer, director, historian and sometimes a really mean grannie. pic.twitter.com/95FiYCdLIf
— Reconsidering Cinema (@coenesqued) January 22, 2020