Happy Birthday, Graham Chapman!

chapman1Graham Arthur Chapman (January 8, 1941–October 4, 1989) was an English comedian, writer, actor, and a member of Monty Python. Although he earned a degree in medicine, Chapman's brush with the Footlights at Cambridge proved much more influential on his career.

After graduation, Chapman began writing for television, including stints on The Week That Was, Doctor, and This Is Petula Clark. Chapman and fellow future Python member John Cleese began writing for the BBC during the 1960s for David Frost and Marty Feldman. 

cleese_grahamOn October 5, 1969, the BBC aired the first episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, which was conceived and performed by members Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. According to his writing partner John Cleese, Chapman's greatest contribution to the group was his awareness of what was funny. Cleese later said in an interview that one of Graham's great attributes was "his weird take on things."

 

 

 

 

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Chapman collaborated with Peter Cook for the first time in Yellowbeard, Chapman's pet project which featured himself as the pirate, and included appearances from Cook, John Cleese, Spike Milligan, and Cheech & Chong. It was also the final film appearance of Mary Feldman. In 2001, Cleese described Yellowbeard as "one of the six worst films made in the history of the world." 

Chapman played the lead roles in Monty Python's two narrative feature films, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Life of Brian. The actor struggled with alcoholism for most of his life, and according to Terry Gilliam, Chapman was so drunk during filming that he was unable to cross the "Bridge of Death" and the assistant cameraman had to play his double.

 

grahamchapman_3_396x222Chapman was one of the first celebrities ever to come out publically, doing so on an English talk show. When a member of the audience wrote to the show to point out that homosexuality was against the teachings of the Bible, Eric Idle responded "we've found out who it is and we've taken him out and had him killed." Chapman lived for two decades with his partner David Sherlock, and was a vocal supporter of LGBT rights. Chapman and Sherlock later adopted a son, John Tomiczek.

 

 

chapman4Chapman died on October 4, 1989 after suffering from complications from tonsil cancer and secondary spinal cancer. David Sherlock and fellow Pythons Michael Palin and John Cleese were at his bedside when he died, and Terry Jones and Peter Cook had visited earlier that day. Chapman died on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Flying Circus, which Terry Jones called "the worst case of party-pooping in all history". 

 

The Pythons chose not to attend Chapman's funeral in order to give his family privacy and protection against a media craze, but they sent a wreath in the shape of the Python foot with the message: "To Graham from the other Pythons. Stop us if we're getting too silly." Since his death, members of Monty Python have rejected the possibility of a Python revival except to say:  "We would only do a reunion if Chapman came back from the dead. So we're negotiating with his agent."

 

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Subsequent gatherings of the Pythons have included an urn said to contain Chapman's ashes. At the 1998 Aspen Comedy Arts festival, the urn was "accidentally" knocked over by Terry Gilliam, spilling the "ashes" on-stage. The apparently cremated remains were then removed with a dust-buster.

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A Liar's Autobiography, Chapman's fictionalized biography of his life, was first published in Britain in 1980. In 2011, it was announced that the book would be made into a 3D animated film, which includes John Cleese recording dialogue to match up with Chapman's voice, used throughout the film. The film received a limited release in the US on November 2, 2012. Of all the members of Monty Python, only Eric Idle was not involved in the project.

   

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Graham Chapman of Monty Python photographed in his garden 1987. © Stephen Parker

 

 

Related posts:

Today's Birthday in Comedy: Peter Cook

Today's Birthday in Film: Terry Gilliam

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 08 January 2014
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