Comedy would not be the same if it were not for Terry Jones. The 77-year-old founding member of Monty Python died on the evening of Jan. 21 with his wife Anna Soderstrom by his side “after a long, extremely brave but always good-humored battle with a rare form of dementia,” his family said in a statement given to The Guardian. “Over the past few days, his wife, children, extended family, and many close friends have been constantly with Terry as he gently slipped away at his home in North London. We have all lost a kind, funny, warm, creative, and truly loving man whose uncompromising individuality, relentless intellect, and extraordinary humor has given pleasure to countless millions across six decades.”
It’s safe to say that Terry – along with Sir Michael Palin, 76, Eric Idle, 76, John Cleese, 80, Terry Gilliam, 79, and the late Graham Chapman – revolutionized comedy with the surreal sketch troupe, Monty Python. The skits from their renowned television show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, have been memorized and repeated by millions ever since it first aired in 1969. Similarly, their movies have become pop culture landmarks. However, Terry was more than just a Python. Outside of his work with the troupe, he was a celebrated screenwriter, director, and television host. As the world mourns the loss of this comedy titan, here’s what you need to know about the late Terry Jones.
1. He was the Pythons’ Renaissance Man. Terence Graham Parry Jones, born in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, on Feb. 1, 1942, would go on to change the face of comedy forever when he met friend and future writing partner Michael Palin at Oxford. The two would meet up with Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, and John Cleese while on The Frost Report sketch show in 1966. Three years later, their group (along with Terry Gilliam) would launch Monty Python’s Flying Circus. On Flying Circus, Terry would write, act, sing, dress up in drag, direct – you name it. He also said one of the group’s most famous lines: “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.”
“Terry was one of my closest, most valued friends. He was kind, generous, supportive, and passionate about living life to the full,” Michale Palin told the BBC. “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.”
2. He was an accomplished director … With Monty Python, Terry was successful both in front of and behind the camera. He helped direct two of their most successful films: first, directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail along with Terry Gilliam, and then helming The Life Of Brian on his own. He also directed The Meaning Of Life, and while not as successful as the first two, it contains one of his most famous on-screen characters: the giant Mr. Creosote, who explodes after a final “wafer-thin mint.” Post-Python, he directed Erik The Viking, Personal Services, and The Wind in the Willows.
3. … and a noted historian. Terry was a prolific writer, with nearly 20 children’s books under his belt before he died. He also contributed a string of comment pieces for the Guardian and Observer denouncing the “war on terror.” He also indulged in his love of history, publishing two books on Chaucer, and presented three series about ancient and medieval history.
4. He was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. Terry and his family went public with his diagnosis in 2016 (revealing he was diagnosed with the rare form of dementia a year before.) He began demonstrating symptoms during 2014. While performing with the surviving Pythons for the Monty Python live (mostly) reunion event at London’s O2, Michael Palin noticed something was wrong with his friend. “Terry was always very good at remembering lines,” he told The Guardian. “But this time he had real problems, and in the end, he had to use a teleprompter. That was a first for him. I realized then that something more serious than memory lapses was affecting him.”
Terry underwent tests and learned he had FTD, a “condition that affects the front and sides of the brain, where language and social control centers are based.” Unlike Alzheimer’s, there is no loss of reasoning or orientation. However, planning, decision making, and speech are affected. Following the diagnosis, Terry became the face for FTD, helping to raise awareness about the disease.
5. His death was mourned by his fellow comedy icons. “Farewell, Terry Jones,” tweeted British comedy legend, Stephen Fry. “The great foot has come down to stamp on you. My god, what pleasure you gave, what untrammeled joy and delight. What a wonderful talent, heart, and mind.” “News that arrives like a punch to the gut. Thanks for making us laugh so much, Terry,” added David Schneider. Screenwriter Charlie Brooker posted a tribute to Terry, reciting a line from his most-famous sketch from Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life. “RIP the actual genius Terry Jones. Far too many brilliant moments to choose from. Here’s one random wafer-thin mint.”