Cleese, Palin and Idle pay tribute to Monty Python star Terry Jones

22 January 2020, 12:42 | Updated: 22 January 2020, 21:28

Monty Python star Terry Jones has died at the age of 77.

The Welsh actor was one of the six members of Monty Python - a group widely considered the "Beatles of comedy".

Jones's death was confirmed by his family, who said he had passed away on the evening of 21 January at his home in north London with his wife Anna Soderstrom by his side.

They said he had been fighting "a long, extremely brave but always good humoured battle with a rare form of dementia".

Jones contracted the progressive disease four years ago, which primarily affected his ability to communicate.

He is said to have "gently slipped away" after spending the last few days in the constant company of his wife, children, extended family and many close friends.

A message from the official Monty Python Twitter account read: "Farewell dear Terry J. Two down, four to go. Love Terry G, Mike, John & Eric."

A family statement said: "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.

"His work with Monty Python, his books, films, television programmes, poems and other work will live on forever, a fitting legacy to a true polymath."

They also thanked the nurses, doctors and carers who had helped Jones over the last few years, saying they had made life "not only bearable but often joyful".

During his lifetime, Jones and his wife helped to raise over £600,000 for Alzheimer's Research UK, in a bid to fund vital dementia research which they hoped would one day eradicate the disease.

The statement concluded by giving thanks "that we lived in the presence of an extraordinarily talented, playful and happy man living a truly authentic life, in his words 'Lovingly frosted with glucose'".

Jones became a household name thanks to Monty Python - a surreal comedy group which he created along with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Michael Palin.

Jones is largely credited with coming up with the surreal structure of the show, which didn't comply to the normal joke set-up, premise and punch line formula.

Their TV sketch show - Monty Python's Flying Circus - first aired in 1969, running for four series and 45 episodes over five years.

Cleese tweeted: "Just heard about Terry J. 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".

His tally is in reference to the remaining four members of Monty Python. Graham Chapman died of cancer in 1989.

Cleese later told Sky News that Jones was the "most multi-talented of the Pythons".

He said the sketches that Jones wrote were unique - very visual and fairly long - and unlike anything the rest of the team were able to produce.

Idle looked back to the first time he watched Jones on stage at the Edinburgh Festival in 1963, saying he "loved him" the moment he saw him.

The fellow Python went on: "So many laughs, moments of total hilarity onstage and off we have all shared with him. It's too sad if you knew him, but if you didn't you will always smile at the many wonderfully funny moments he gave us.

"Thank you all for your kind thoughts and messages of support for our dearly beloved brother Terry. It is a cruel and sad thing. But let's remember just what joy he brought to all of us."

Palin hailed Jones "one of my closest, most valued friends", calling him "kind, generous, supportive and passionate about living life to the full".

He went on to summarise Jones's many skills: "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.

"I feel very fortunate to have shared so much of my life with him."

Palin told Sky News they still shared some special moments despite his illness.

"I did used to talk to Terry the way we'd used to talk - even though there was not much coming back.

"I'd chat away about what was going on and just occasionally they'd be a moment - a little flicker of the eye or a little smile - that was like a long conversation.

"It meant so much that we'd made some connection.

"He'd touch my hand and hold my hand and respond to my touch to him - that meant so much... he was like that until two or three months ago when things began to close down."

Tributes also poured in from fellow comedians and performers, with many paying homage to Jones's numerous comedy skits.

Stephen Fry paid tribute on Twitter, referring to the irreverent animations which appeared throughout Monty Python's Flying Circus: "Farewell, Terry Jones. The great foot has come down to stamp on you. My god what pleasure you gave, what untrammelled joy and delight. What a wonderful talent, heart and mind."

Queen guitarist Brian May paid tribute to Jones on Instagram, calling him a "genius comedy star and wonderful guy", and describing his life as "a legacy to the world".

Comedian and actor Adrian Edmondson said Jones's appearance on the anarchic sitcom The Young Ones was "like an affirmation from God himself". He was the only Python to agree to make a cameo in the show.

David Walliams, Simon Pegg, Charlie Brooker and Eddie Izzard also paid tribute.

Izzard told Sky News the Monty Python team were "comedy Gods", hailing their work as the "Mount Olympus of comedy who changed the face of world comedy".

He went on to describe Jones as "the saviour of the Python spirit" thanks to his safeguarding of the group's video copies of their early work.

Jones was born in Colwyn Bay on the north coast of Wales, before moving to Surrey as a toddler.

He went on to study English at Oxford, where he met Palin and the two went on to write and perform in satirical TV shows including Do Not Adjust Your Set and The Frost Report.

They later formed the Python troop with Cambridge graduates Chapman, Cleese and Idle, and American animator Gilliam.

As well as co-writing and staring in the Python TV shows, Jones also directed many of their films including Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1975), Life Of Brian (1979), and The Meaning Of Life (1983).

In Life Of Brian, Jones played Mandy, the mother of a hapless man mistaken for Jesus. His line "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!" is internationally recognised.

Despite being described as "foul, disgusting and blasphemous" by activist Mary Whitehouse at the time, the movie has since been voted the funniest classic comedy in a poll compiled by the magazine Total Film.

His other much-loved characters included Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson, Cardinal Biggles of the Spanish Inquisition and Mr Creosote, the monstrously obese restaurant patron.

Outside of Python he played Mr Toad in 1996 film The Wind In The Willows, which also starred Idle as Rat, Cleese as Mr Toad's lawyer and Palin as the Sun.

In 2014 the remaining members of Monty Python reunited for the first time in 30 years for a series of live stage shows.

Tickets for the shows sold out in just 44 seconds, with some later appeared for resale on ticket listing websites for up to £3,000.

A history lover, Jones also directed documentaries and wrote several books on ancient history, as well as writing fiction and children's literature.

He leaves behind his wife Anna and three children Bill, Sally and Siri.