Monty Python's comedy legends: Where are they now?

16 February 2024, 12:37

Monty Python's John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Pail, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, and Graham Chapman in 1975. (Photo by Ben Martin/Getty Images)
Monty Python's John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Pail, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, and Graham Chapman in 1975. (Photo by Ben Martin/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

By Thomas Edward

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"Always look on the bright side of life".

It was much easier to see the bright side of life when the comedic troupe Monty Python were lampooning religious institutions and the rules of comedy, or just generally causing havoc with their absurdist sense of humour.

Since 1969 the Python lot has been pushing the boundaries of what was possible (and certainly what was acceptable) in comedy, with many believing the six members had as much influence on comedy as The Beatles did on popular music.

After first appearing on our television screens in the hectic sketch show, Monty Python's Flying Circus, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Graham Chapman became as adored as they were disruptive.

The anarchistic troupe then went on to make three iconic comedy films - Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1975, Life of Brian in 1979, and The Meaning of Life in 1983 - before ostensibly calling it quits.

They reunited on several occasions in the years since, but stuck to staying separate on large, and in light of the recent war of words between Idle and Cleese, it might be the last we see of Monty Python as a unit.

Sadly, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman are no longer with us - Chapman, the central star of Life of Brian tragically died of cancer in 1989 aged just 48, and Jones left us in 2020 after complications with dementia just days before his 78th birthday.

But what of the rest of the four remaining Monty Python crew? Here's all you need to know:

  1. Michael Palin

    Michael Palin.
    Michael Palin. Picture: Getty

    Michael Palin has become a national treasure since Monty Python disbanded, and was honoured with a knighthood for his services to travel, culture, and geography in 2019.

    Outside of Python, Palin and Terry Jones co-wrote and starred in the parody Ripping Yarns from 1977 to 1979, and also starred in a handful of films directed by Terry Gilliam including 1988's A Fish Called Wanda which saw him win the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

    Palin later distanced himself from comedy and broke into the travel domain. He'd travel to and explore regions like the Himalayas, the Arctic and the Antarctic, more recently making insightful documentaries about North Korea and Iraq.

    Just days before his 80th birthday on 5th May 2023, Palin's wife of 57 years Helen sadly died. He said he'd need to "reset" his life after the painful loss, but had no plans to retire just yet.

    Talking on the Headliners podcast shortly after, Palin said: "Your body gets rusty like a piece of old machinery that’s done you quite well over the years but then a couple of screws fall off and a door falls off and that’s it."

    "I hear my wife's voice going, 'Get on with it, don’t mope around'. I'm doing what she would want me to do. It is a distraction and stops you from feeling suddenly bereft."

  2. Terry Gilliam

    Terry Gilliam.
    Terry Gilliam. Picture: Getty

    Terry Gilliam was always the man behind the scenes so to speak, the odd one out in Monty Python for two reasons:

    Firstly, he wasn't actually a comedian - he was the animator who gave the troupe an entirely new dimension. Secondly, he was the group's only non-British member.

    After Monty Python (having directed episodes of Flying Circus and 1975 film Holy Grail), Gilliam became a bonafide film director. Stepping behind the camera to direct dystopian classics like Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Fisher King, the aesthetic of his films is immediately identifiable by their restless, deranged psychological slant.

    He hasn't made a film since 2018's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which took him thirty years to complete due to legal issues. Gilliam hinted he may be retiring to The Scotsman in 2020: "There’s a feeling that because I spent 30 years on it, it must be a masterpiece. But why? It’s just the last movie I made. That's all it is."

    Tensions between the comedy troupe were heightened somewhat when his daughter Holly took over the Python brand in 2013 as part of HDG Projects Ltd, with financial reasons often coming in the way between the comedians.

  3. Eric Idle

    Eric Idle.
    Eric Idle. Picture: Getty

    Eric Idle was one of Python's more prominent on-screen presences after they disbanded, pursuing a solo career in comedy and going on to host Saturday Night Live in the US four times in as many years.

    Having appeared in various children's films like The Wind In The Willows, Casper, and Transformer: The Movie, Idle's greatest post-Python success came when he adapted the Holy Grail into Broadway musical, Spamalot.

    Spamalot was a major critical and commercial hit, winning Idle the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

    The relationship between Idle and John Cleese was blown into the public spotlight however after the former made social media comments about Cleese's behaviour, calling him a "bully" and claiming they've not spoken for seven years.

    "[John] bullied Jonesy. I always felt ashamed we did nothing. I still love and am proud of what we did as Python. It was a very unique group. I think of us as an ex-Liverpool team. We played together well, way back in the day. But it was never very supportive of people’s feelings and emotions. Not brothers. Colleagues."

    After digging out Cleese, Idle turned his attention to Gilliam's daughter Holly and streaming giant Netflix, saying he still has to work due to ongoing financial struggles.

    "We own everything we ever made in Python and I never dreamed that at this age the income streams would tail off so disastrously," he said in a clear dig at Holly. "I guess if you put a Gilliam child in as your manager you should not be so surprised. One Gilliam is bad enough. Two can take out any company."

    When asked about a potential Netflix documentary, Idle replied: "f*** documentaries. I'm fine. I'm writing. It's the thing I do and like the most. Creating a new show. Something that feels so normal. Been doing it since 1963."

  4. John Cleese

    John Cleese.
    John Cleese. Picture: Getty

    John Cleese is arguably the most internationally recognisable member of Monty Python, due to his towering presence, acerbic wit, and series of successes after following his own path.

    During his time in Python, Cleese wrote and starred as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, a comedy series that became an instant classic.

    Cleese co-wrote and starred in A Fish Called Wanda alongside Michael Palin which saw him achieve Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and a BAFTA win for Best Actor. He also starred as Q in James Bond movies The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, various Harry Potter films, and had bit parts in a number of Hollywood movies.

    Later in life, Cleese courted controversy for his opinions on "freedom of speech" and the right to offend, which landed him a talk show on GB News.

    He was quick to respond in the online spat brewing between him and Eric Idle, revealing: "We always loathed and despised each other, but it's only recently that the truth has begun to emerge."

    I have worked with Holly for the last ten years, and I find her very efficient, clear-minded, hard-working, and pleasant to have dealings with,” the Fawlty Towers star added. "Michael Palin has asked me to make it clear that he shares this opinion. Terry Gilliam is also in agreement with this."