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Graham Chapman 1941-1989

Country : Leicester, Leicestershire, England
Profession : Comedian
Date of birth : 1941-01-08
Date of death : 1989-10-04
Cause of Death : Throat cancer

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Graham Arthur Chapman (8 January 1941 – 4 October 1989) was a British comedian, actor, writer, physician and one of the six members of the Monty Python comedy troupe. He was also the lead actor in their two narrative films, playing King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the title character in Monty Python's Life of Brian. He co-authored and starred in the film Yellowbeard.


Chapman was educated at Melton Mowbray Grammar School and studied medicine at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. At Cambridge, he began writing comedy sketches with fellow-student John Cleese. Chapman qualified as a medical doctor at the Barts Hospital Medical College, but never practised medicine professionally.

While at Cambridge, Chapman joined Footlights. His fellow members included Cleese, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie, Tony Hendra, David Hatch, Jonathan Lynn, Humphrey Barclay, and Jo Kendall. Their revue A Clump of Plinths was so successful at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that they renamed it Cambridge Circus, and took the revue to the West End in London and later New Zealand and Broadway in September 1964. The revue appeared in October 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Before Python

Cleese and Chapman wrote professionally for the BBC during the 1960s, primarily for David Frost, but also for Marty Feldman. Chapman also contributed sketches to the BBC radio series I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again and television programmes such as The Illustrated Weekly Hudd (starring Roy Hudd), Cilla Black, This is Petula Clark, and This is Tom Jones. Chapman, Cleese, and Tim Brooke-Taylor then joined Feldman in the television comedy series At Last the 1948 Show. Chapman, and on occasion Cleese, also wrote for the long-running television comedy series Doctor in the House. Chapman also co-wrote several episodes with Bernard McKenna and David Sherlock.

Monty Python's Flying Circus

In 1969 Chapman and Cleese joined Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and American artist Terry Gilliam for the BBC television comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus. He most often played characters closer to his own personality: outwardly calm, authoritative figures barely concealing a manic unpredictability.

In David Morgan's 1999 book Monty Python Speaks, Cleese asserted that Chapman - although officially his co-writer for many of their sketches - contributed comparatively little in the way of direct writing. Rather, the Pythons have said that his biggest contribution in the writing room was an intuition as to what was funny. John Cleese said in an interview that one of Chapman's great attributes was "his weird takes on things." In writing sessions Chapman "would lob in an idea or a line, but he could never be the engine", Cleese said. In the "Dead Parrot Sketch", written mostly by Cleese, the frustrated customer was initially trying to return a faulty toaster to a shop. Chapman would ask "How can we make this madder?", and then came up with the idea that returning a dead parrot to a pet shop might make a more interesting subject than a toaster. Cleese also complimented his writing partner by saying, "He was very possibly the best actor of all of us."

Post-Python career

In the late 1970s, Chapman moved to Los Angeles, where he guest-starred on many US television shows, including The Hollywood Squares, Still Crazy Like a Fox, and the NBC sketch series The Big Show. Upon returning to England he became involved with the Dangerous Sports Club (an extreme sports club which introduced bungee jumping to a wide audience). He began a lengthy series of US college tours in the 1980s, where he would tell the audience anecdotes on Monty Python, the Dangerous Sports Club, Keith Moon, and other subjects. His memoir, A Liar's Autobiography, was published in 1980 and, unusually for an autobiography, had five authors: Chapman, his partner David Sherlock, Alex Martin, David Yallop and Douglas Adams, who in 1977 was virtually unknown as a recent graduate fresh from Cambridge. Together they wrote a pilot for a TV series, Out of the Trees; it was aired in 1975, but never became a series. They also wrote a show for Ringo Starr, which was never made. Chapman mentored Adams, but they later had a falling out and did not speak for several years. It took years of planning and rewriting before he secured the funds to create Yellowbeard; The movie was finally released in 1983.

Chapman's last project was to have been a TV series called Jake's Journey. Although the pilot episode was made, there were difficulties selling the project. Following Chapman's death, there was no interest. Chapman was also to have played a guest role as a television presenter in the Red Dwarf episode "Timeslides", but died before filming was to have started.

In the years since Chapman's death, despite the existence of the "Graham Chapman Archive", only a few of his projects have actually been released. One of these projects is a play entitled O Happy Day, brought to life in 2000 by Dad's Garage Theatre Company in Atlanta, Georgia. Cleese and Palin assisted the theatre company in adapting the play. He also appeared in the Iron Maiden video, "Can I Play with Madness".

Personal life

Chapman was a tall (6'2"/1.88 m), craggy pipe-smoker who enjoyed mountaineering and playing rugby. At the same time, he was highly eccentric and in later life open about his homosexuality. (Douglas Adams recalled in an interview that Chapman had told Adams he had once tired of slow service in his local pub, and had taken to slapping his penis against the bar to attract the attention of the bar staff.)

Chapman was an alcoholic from his time in medical school. His drinking affected his performance on the TV recording set as well as on the set of Holy Grail, where he suffered from withdrawal symptoms including delirium tremens. He finally stopped drinking on Boxing Day 1977, having just irritated the other Pythons with an outspoken (and drunken) interview with the New Musical Express.

Chapman kept his homosexuality a secret until the mid 1970s when he famously came out on a chat show hosted by British jazz musician George Melly, becoming one of the first celebrities to do so. Several days later, he came out to a group of friends at a party held at his home in Belsize Park where he officially introduced them to his partner, David Sherlock, whom he had met in Ibiza in 1966. Chapman later told a story in his college tour that when he made his homosexuality public, a member of the television audience wrote to the Pythons to complain that she had heard a member of the team was gay, adding that the Bible said any man that lies with a man should be taken out and stoned. With fellow Pythons already aware of his sexual orientation, Eric Idle replied, "We've found out who it was and we've had him shot."

Chapman was a vocal spokesman for gay rights, and in 1972 he lent his support to the fledgling newspaper Gay News, which publicly acknowledged his financial and editorial support by listing him as one of its "special friends".

Among Chapman's closest friends were Keith Moon of The Who, singer Harry Nilsson, and Beatle Ringo Starr.

Before going sober, Chapman jokingly referred to himself as the British actress Betty Marsden, possibly because of Marsden's oft-quoted desire to die with a glass of gin in her hand.

In 1971, Chapman and Sherlock adopted John Tomiczek as their son. Chapman met Tomiczek when the teenager was a runaway from Liverpool. After discussions with Tomiczek's father, it was agreed that Chapman would become Tomiczek's legal guardian. John later became Chapman's business manager. He died in 1992.


Chapman died of a rare spinal cancer, which was diagnosed in November 1988 after his dentist found a growth on his tonsils. By September 1989 the cancer was declared incurable. He filmed scenes for the 20th anniversary of Monty Python that month, but was taken ill again on 1 October. Present when he died in a Maidstone hospice on the evening of 4 October 1989 were John Cleese, Michael Palin, David Sherlock, his brother John, and John's wife, although Cleese had to be led out of the room to deal with his grief. Terry Jones and Peter Cook had visited earlier that day. His death occurred one day before the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Flying Circus; Jones called it “the worst case of party-pooping in all history."


On 31 December 1999 Chapman's ashes were rumoured to have been "blasted into the skies in a rocket". In reality, however, Sherlock scattered Chapman's ashes in Snowdon, North Wales on 18 June 2005.

Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)

Parrot Sketch Not Included: Twenty Years of Monty Python (18-Nov-1989) Himself
Yellowbeard (24-Jun-1983)
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1-Apr-1983)
Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (25-Jun-1982)
The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1982) Himself
Life of Brian (17-Aug-1979)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Apr-1975)
And Now for Something Completely Different (22-Aug-1972)
The Statue (27-Jan-1971)
How To Irritate People (1968)

Rotten Library Page:
Graham Chapman

Author of books:
A Liar's Autobiography (volume 6) (1980, memoir)

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