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John Cleese

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Also Known As: John Otto Cleese, John Marwood Cleese Died:
Born: October 27, 1939 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Somerset, England, GB Profession: actor, screenwriter, author, producer, director, teacher

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

As perhaps the most famous of the performers who starred in the irreverent comedy troupe, Monty Python, actor and comedian John Cleese reached legendary status, thanks to his deadpan delivery of ridiculous characters and limber-limbed slapstick antics. Prior to starring on "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (BBC, 1969-1974) with cast mates Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, Cleese had established himself predominantly as a writer and occasional performer on such British series as "The Dick Emery Show" (BBC, 1963-1991) and "The Frost Report" (BBC, 1966). But with Monty Python, Cleese became an international star once the series began airing in America on PBS, which led to several films, two of which - "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1974) and "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979) - became instant classics. Following the death of Chapman in 1989, Monty Python as a full unit ceased to be, though on several occasions the surviving members reunited for various stage performances. Meanwhile, after numerous supporting roles, Cleese broke through with "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), which reintroduced him to a new generation and paved the way for a long, venerable career...

As perhaps the most famous of the performers who starred in the irreverent comedy troupe, Monty Python, actor and comedian John Cleese reached legendary status, thanks to his deadpan delivery of ridiculous characters and limber-limbed slapstick antics. Prior to starring on "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (BBC, 1969-1974) with cast mates Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, Cleese had established himself predominantly as a writer and occasional performer on such British series as "The Dick Emery Show" (BBC, 1963-1991) and "The Frost Report" (BBC, 1966). But with Monty Python, Cleese became an international star once the series began airing in America on PBS, which led to several films, two of which - "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1974) and "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979) - became instant classics. Following the death of Chapman in 1989, Monty Python as a full unit ceased to be, though on several occasions the surviving members reunited for various stage performances. Meanwhile, after numerous supporting roles, Cleese broke through with "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), which reintroduced him to a new generation and paved the way for a long, venerable career as a prominent character actor in major Hollywood blockbusters.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Secret Policeman's Ball, The (1979) Stage Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
3.
 Planes (2013)
4.
 God Loves Caviar (2012)
5.
 Winnie the Pooh (2011)
7.
 Big Year, The (2011)
8.
 Spud (2011)
9.
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Joined the Cambridge Footlights Revue, where he met his future writing partner Graham Chapman
1963:
Cast in the Footlights Revue "A Clump of Plinths"; later changed name to "Cambridge Circus" and performed in London's West End
1963:
Joined BBC Radio writing sketches for the "Dick Emery Show"
1964:
Performed in New York (on and off-Broadway) and on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS) with the Footlights Revue
1966:
Began writing (with Chapman) for the BBC show "The Frost Report"
1968:
First screen credit (with Chapman), "The Magic Christian"
1968:
Screen acting debut in "The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom"
1969:
Debuted the BBC's "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (aired in the U.S. on PBS)
1970:
Feature screenwriting debut (with Chapman), "The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer"; also acted in film
1971:
Formed Video Arts Ltd. to make industrial training films
1971:
Wrote (with Chapman) several episodes including the pilot of the British series "Doctor in the House"
1971:
First Monty Python film, "And Now for Something Completely Different"
1972:
Began making TV commercials
1975:
Re-teamed with the gang for "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"
1975:
Co-created, co-starred and co-wrote (with then wife Connie Booth) the TV series "Fawlty Towers" (BBC)
1979:
Offended all religions equally in "Monty Python's Life of Brian"
1979:
Starred in "The Secret Policeman's Ball" for Amnesty International (aired as a one-hour TV special, a full-length movie and two record albums)
1981:
Starred as Robin Hood in Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits"
1983:
Re-teamed for "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life"
:
Worked with Charles Crichton on 17 short films
1985:
Delivered a memorable turn as Sheriff Langston in "Silverado"; first collaboration with Kevin Kline
1986:
Played a school headmaster obsessed with punctuality in "Clockwise"
1987:
First American TV guest spot, "Cheers" (NBC)
1988:
First feature film as producer, "A Fish Called Wanda" (also co-starred and scripted); directed by Crichton; nominated for an Academy Award for his script; Kline co-starred in his Oscar winning performance
1991:
Lent his voice to the animated feature "An American Tail: Feivel Goes West"
1994:
Portrayed Professor Waldman, Frankenstein's tutor and colleague, in Kenneth Branagh's "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein"
1995:
Re-teamed with the cast from "A Fish Called Wanda" for the less successful, "Fierce Creatures"
1997:
Voiced Ape, the mentor and father figure of Brendan Fraser's "George of the Jungle"
1999:
Played Mr. Mersault, the hotel manager in the remake of "The Out-of-Towners"
1999:
Appeared in the James Bond film "The World Is Not Enough" as Q's assistant, referred to by Bond as 'R'
1999:
Played a fictionalized version of Simon & Schuster head Dick Snyder in "Isn't She Great"
2001:
Appeared in the ensemble comedy "Rat Race," a throwback to the star-packed comedies of the 1960s
2001:
Played Nearly Headless Nick in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
2002:
Cast as the owner of a TV network on the short-lived ABC comedy "Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central)"
2002:
Returned as Nearly Headless Nick in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"
2002:
Promoted to the role of Q in his next Bond outing "Die Another Day"
2003:
Cast as the father of Alex (Lucy Liu) in "Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle"
2004:
Had a recurring role on the NBC sitcom, "Will and Grace," as the father of Lorraine Finster (Minnie Driver) and Karen's love interest; nominated for an Emmy Award
2004:
Voiced Fiona's Father, King Harold in the animated feature "Shrek 2"
2004:
Cast as The Balloon Man in the Disney live action feature "Around the World in 80 Days"
2005:
Toured New Zealand with his one-man show "Seven Ways to Skin an Ocelot"
2006:
Voiced Samuel the sheep in live-action/computer-animated feature film "Charlotte's Web," based on the book by E.B. White
2007:
Reprised the role of King Harold for "Shrek the Third"
2008:
Lent his voice to the animated comedy "Igor"
2008:
Cast as Professor Barnhardt, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist in the remake of the 1951 sci-fi movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still"
2009:
Voiced Professer Kripple in the animated sci-fi film "Planet 51"
2010:
Returned to voice King Harold in the animated feature "Shrek Forever After"
2011:
Narrated the animated family film "Winnie the Pooh"
2011:
Cast in the comedy feature "The Big Year" opposite Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Clifton College: Clifton , Bristol, City of - 1953 - 1958
University of Cambridge: Cambridge , England - 1960 - 1963

Notes

See Eric Idle for additional background information on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

"In October (1988), Cleese gave about $140,000 to Sussex University to finance a three-year study into the psychological phenomenon of projection and denial--the tendency for people to deny that a problem is caused by themselves, and to project the blame onto someone else. . . . Cleese will own the copyright on the research and hopes to eventually write a book with Robin Skynner on the topic." --From "Cleese Up Close" by Bill Bryson in The New York Times Magazine, December 25, 1988.

"Cleese has spent much of his career playing with devastating effect seething, angry, mentally volcanic characters who if they are pushed just one more inch will erupt in a ranting, fist-shaking, quavering rage--and then, of course, are pushed that one inch. So many people find it difficult to accept the idea that in person he is composure itself: quiet, thoughtful, attentive, not at all given to stomping his feet, beating his head against walls, smacking menials or dashing around in a state of semi-hysteria." --From "Cleese Up Close" by Bill Bryson in The New York Times Magazine, December 25, 1988.

"Cleese's humor has always been built around those characteristics that most set the English apart--a sense of decorum, class rigidities, suppressed emotions, a fondness for the lilt and flow of words and, above all, an instinctive delight in the absurd." --From "Cleese Up Close" in The New York Times Magazine, December 25, 1988.

Cleese's company, Video Arts Ltd., won the prestigious Queen's Award for Industry in 1981.

About his lack of singing ability: "I'm the most unmusical man in Europe. I once did a Broadway musical ('Half a Sixpence') and I was only allowed to mime. It was in 1965 and it was only a small role. But after about six weeks, I just started joining in very quietly, and about two performancwes later, the musical director came up and said, 'John?' I said, 'Yes, sir?' 'Are you singing?' I said, 'Just a little.' He said, 'Don't!'" --Cleese, in "Idol Chatter", Premiere, January 1997.

On American attempts to duplicate "Fawlty Towers": "The advantage to 'Fawlty' was that I was able to do . . . slightly over a half hour. This gave me a lot of time to build the tension, and get Basil more and more frantic.

"Now as I told the ['Payne'] writers, it's going to be very hard to get him wound up to that peak of madness in only 22 minutes, so you've immediately got a problem."

As for ABC's short-lived "Amanda's", starring Bea Arthur: "This ['Amanda's'] was a very strange business . . . They wrote Basil out. If you take him away, and have a woman play his part, the dynamic is all wrong." --Cleese to The Chicago Sun-Times, March 26, 1998.

"The only way to understand 'Monty Python' was that it was six writers who happened to perform their own material. And the reason you can tell is because we used to fight like cats and dogs about relative merit of material. Terrible fights. We never, ever fought about the acting. Nobody was ever cross about not getting a part. It didn't matter. What mattered was getting the material right. We were almost a bit Puritan about it." --Cleese quoted in USA Today, February 16, 1999.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Connie Booth. Actor, screenwriter, therapist. Married on February 20, 1968; divorced in 1978; co-wrote "Fawlty Towers" with Cleese.
wife:
Barbara Trentham. Director. Married on February 15, 1981; divorced in 1990.
wife:
Alyce Faye Eichelberger. Therapist. Married in 1992.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Reginald Cleese. Insurance salesman.
mother:
Muriel Cleese. Acrobat.
daughter:
Cynthia Cleese. Born c. 1971; mother, Connie Booth; married to screenwriter Ed Solomon; portrayed one of the zookeepers in "Fierce Creatures" (1997).
daughter:
Camilla Cleese. Born c. 1983; mother, Barbara Trentham.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Families and How to Survive Them"
"Cleese Encounters" St. Martin's Press
"The Human Face" DK Publishing

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