Jones’ agent confirmed his death, while his family also issued a statement. “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,” they said. “His work with Monty Python, his books, films, television programs, poems, and other work will live on forever, a fitting legacy to a true polymath.”
On Twitter, Jones’ Monty Python partner John Cleese wrote: “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.”
Jones’ frequent writing partner, Michael Palin, said, “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.”
Jones helped launch Monty Python in 1969, working as a writer and actor on their breakout sketch show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He also played a crucial role in the development of its stream-of-consciousness style, where classic sketch tenets and structures were dropped in favor of irreverent beats and random endings. Jones would go on to co-direct with Terry Gilliam one of Python’s first movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and later helmed Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Along with his comedy career, Jones moonlighted as a medieval historian, political pundit, and children’s book author.
Jones was born in Wales in 1942 but was raised in England. He studied English literature at Oxford, which is where he met Palin while performing in the Oxford Revue. The pair formed a partnership and, after graduating, ventured out into the television-comedy world together. They spent the mid-Sixties working on a variety of shows, such as David Frost’s The Frost Report and the sketch show Do Not Adjust Your Set. It was during this time that Jones and Palin linked up with the rest of the Pythons, formed the group and, in 1969, debuted Flying Circus.
Throughout his Python tenure, but especially on Flying Circus, Jones showed a knack for playing reserved men and so-called “ratbag old women.” He was the straight man to Eric Idle’s innuendo-obsessed goof in the “Nudge Nudge” sketch, the mother offering up “jugged fish” in the “Dead Bishop” sketch, and the waitress serving the titular item in the “Spam” sketch, which he co-wrote with Palin. (Admittedly, even Jones would acknowledge years later that the Pythons’ “portrayal of women is a bit dated. We didn’t give women a lot of insight.”)
In 1975, Monty Python released their first film, Holy Grail, which Jones and Gilliam co-directed, and in which Jones also played Sir Bedevere the Wise and a host of other characters. He pulled triple duty again as writer, actor, and director for 1979’s Life of Brian and 1983’s The Meaning of Life. The latter would feature one of Jones’ most famous acting moments, as Mr. Creosote, a comically large upper-crust gentleman who eats so much at a fancy restaurant he can’t stop puking and eventually pops.
Along with all his Monty Python work, Jones took on an array of other projects. He and Palin created and starred in the acclaimed comedy anthology series Ripping Yarns. Jones also wrote, directed, and acted in films like Erik the Viking and The Wind and the Willows. In later years, as The Guardian notes, he re-embraced his love of medieval history, writing two books on Chaucer and hosting a slew of TV documentaries. Jones also wrote nearly 20 children’s books and created a handful of TV shows for kids, while at the same time garnering acclaim for his sharp critiques against the Iraq War and the war on terror in The Guardian and The Observer.
As the BBC highlighted, Jones spoke about his potential legacy in a 2011 interview with Wales Online, when asked what he’d like to see on his tombstone. “Maybe a description of me as a writer of children’s books or some of my academic stuff — maybe as the man who restored Richard II’s reputation,” he said. “He was a terrible victim of 14th-century political spin, you know. I think those are my best bits.”
When asked if he really preferred those things over his work with Monty Python, Jones quipped, “To tell you the truth, it’s such a big surprise to me that we’re still talking about those days, what, 40-odd years later? The thing is we never thought Python was a success when it was actually happening, it was only with the benefit of hindsight.”