Born in 1943 in South Shields, England, Eric Idle began writing and performing comedy while attending Cambridge's Pembroke College. In 1969 he co-created Monty Python's Flying Circus, a sketch comedy show that aired for four seasons and spawned multiple feature films. Idle followed with Rutland Weekend Television and appearances in TV and movies, but enjoyed his greatest late-career success with the creation of the smash musical Monty Python's Spamalot.
Early Years and Schools
Eric Idle was born on March 29, 1943, in South Shields, County Durham, England. The future comedian encountered tragedy at an early age when his father, an officer in the Royal Air Force, was killed while hitchhiking home for Christmas in 1945.
Idle was sent to The Royal School Wolverhampton in 1950, and 12 years later he was accepted at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Joining the Footlights Dramatic Club, where he met future collaborators John Cleese and Graham Chapman, he learned how to prepare comedic material and sharpen his timing for live audiences. He later served as Footlights president, helping to get women admitted to the all-male group, before earning his degree in English Literature in 1965.
Early Career and ‘Monty Python’
After graduation, Idle began writing for the comedies I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and The Frost Report, through which he collaborated with Cleese, Chapman and recent Oxford graduates Michael Palin and Terry Jones. Idle, Palin and Jones then moved on to Do Not Adjust Your Set, a zany kids show that brought American animator Terry Gilliam into the fold.
In 1969, Idle, Cleese, Chapman, Palin, Jones and Gilliam launched Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Capturing the irreverent ethos that had become popular through earlier British comedies, Monty Python forged its own identity with absurd sketches that mocked both contemporary and historical figures and made unpredictable detours. Idle became known for his "Nudge, Nudge" sketch, in which he irritates a colleague with his sexual double entendres, and for writing some of the group's musical numbers.
After the show's moderately successful run into 1974, the crew reunited for the King Arthur spoof Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Two more feature films followed, with Idle contributing his famed song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" to Life of Brian (1979) and "The Galaxy Song" to The Meaning of Life (1983).
Freed to pursue new projects, Idle published a satirical novel, Hello Sailor (1975), and enjoyed some success with the creation of Rutland Weekend Television, a sketch comedy show that aired for two seasons. The program included performances by a Beatles parody band called the Rutles, with Idle in the role of "Dirk McQuickly," leading to production of the mockumentary All You Need is Cash (1978).
Idle's play, Pass the Butler, was staged at London's Globe Theatre in 1983, and he enjoyed acclaim later in the decade for his performance as Ko-Ko in a revival of The Mikado. During these years he also appeared in a series of comedic films, including Yellowbeard (1983), European Vacation (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and Nuns on the Run (1990).
Idle wrote the musical Behind the Crease, which aired on BBC Radio in 1990, as well as the children's audio book The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat (1996) and the science fiction novel The Road to Mars (1999). Also in 1999, he became a regular on the final season of the Brooke Shields sitcom Suddenly Susan.
'Spamalot' and Stage Successes
With the start of the new millennium, Idle began a successful late-career turn as a theater impresario. He helped create the Dr. Seuss-themed Seussical and embarked on two North American tours, Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python (2000) and The Greedy Bastard Show (2003).
Along with longtime musical collaborator John Du Prez and director Mike Nichols, Idle in 2004 launched the hit musical Monty Python's Spamalot. Based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and featuring a new catalog of musical numbers to go with a few Python standards, Spamalot won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical and went on to successful runs in Europe, Australia, South Korea and Mexico. Additionally, Idle adapted Life of Brian into the oratorio Not the Messiah, which also received significant international exposure following its 2007 premiere in Toronto, Canada.
Keeping the Python spirit alive, Idle performed "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" during the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. He then organized his old cohorts for Monty Python Live (Mostly), which enjoyed a sell-out run at London's O2 Arena in July 2014. The following year he returned to the stage for John Cleese and Eric Idle: Together Again At Last... For the Very First Time, with the pair sharing anecdotes and screening their celebrated Python skits.
Idle married actress Lyn Ashley in 1969 and became a father with the birth of his son, Carey, in 1973. Following a divorce, he married model Tania Kosevich in 1981. The two had a daughter, Lily, in 1990.
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