Seniors Calling. Terry Jones, Monty Python Genius, has Dementia

Terry Jones
Terry Jones attends a special Tribeca Film Festival screening of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" at the Beacon Theatre on Friday, April 24, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

For anyone living in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario around the time of the release of a Monty Python movie called ‘Life of Brian’, you may recall there was a huge kerfuffle about that particular movie – at that particular time. It was certainly the talk of the community when it happened.

montypythonlifeofbrianfilmposterIn 1980, a theatre in The Sault, was charged with blasphemous libel for showing ‘Life of Brian’. Ontario’s then-Conservative Attorney General moved swiftly to stay the charge, but Canada’s lesser known Criminal Code, Section 296, was enacted. The ‘religious right’ and ‘moral majority’ in North America and The United Kingdom were on a rampage to have ‘Life of Brian’ permanently buried.

When Life of Brian was re-released in June 2004, iconic film reviewer, Roger Ebert said in part: ‘The movie benefits by looking vaguely historically accurate (it used the sets build by Lord Lew Grade for Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth”). It incorporates familiar figures such as Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin) but observes that he speaks with a lisp (his centurions helplessly crack up behind his back). At crucial moments, he breaks into song, and there is a particular irony, considering how it is used on the movie, that “The Bright Side of Life” has taken on a long life in exactly the opposite context.’ (

In late September, 2016, a spokesperson for Terry Jones stated that the 74-year-old Welsh-born member of Monty Python has primary progressive aphasia, which affects his ability to communicate. As a result of this recent diagnosis, his spokesperson stated, “He is no longer able to give interviews.”

montypythontroupe1‘Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a type of neurological syndrome in which language capabilities slowly and progressively become impaired. Although it was first described solely as impairment of language capabilities, while other mental functions remain intact, it is now recognized that many, if not most of those afflicted also struggle with impairment of memory, short term memory formation and loss of executive functions. It was first described as a distinct syndrome by M.-Marsel Mesulam in 1982. Primary progressive aphasias have a clinical and pathological overlap with the frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) spectrum of disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

Terry Jones was born in Colwyn Bay Colwyn Bay, a town and seaside resort in Conwy County Borough on the north coast of Wales overlooking the Irish Sea. Jones and the other Pythons got together in 1969 and wrote and performed Monty Python’s Flying Circus until 1974.  Jones would go on to write and direct drama, documentaries, compose operas and write short stories.

In a moving post on Facebook, Michael Palin, long time member of Monty Python and friend of Terry Jones stated, “The impact on Jones’ ability to speak is the cruelest thing that could befall someone to whom words, ideas, arguments, jokes and stories were once the stuff of life”.  Palin further stated, “It has been painful to watch, my friend and fellow actor struggle with dementia. Terry J has been my close friend and workmate for over 50 years.”

Jones co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Terry Gilliam, and was sole director on two Monty Python movies, Life of Brian and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Original Song Written for a Film in 1984. He directed ‘Personal Services’ and in 1989 wrote and directed ‘Erik The Viking’.

Later Jones wrote, directed and played Toad in ‘The Wind In The Willows’ and also wrote the screenplay for Jim Henson’s ‘Labyrinth’.

montypythontroupeHe also co-wrote and directed ‘Absolutely Anything’ (2015), a British science fiction comedy film. ‘The film stars Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rob Riggle, Eddie Izzard and Joanna Lumley, with the voices of Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Eric Idle and Robin Williams in his final film role. It was the first film to feature all living Monty Python members since 1983’s Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.’ (

Jones has undertaken numerous TV documentaries and his first foray into the world of opera, ‘Evil Machines’, was based on a collection of his short stories. ‘Evil Machines’ premiered in Lisbon, Spain in 2008. A crowd-funded publication of a book of his short stories by the same name was later released.

In 1997, Jones wrote the ‘Knight and the Squire’, a historical adventure story for children. ‘The Lady and the Squire’ was released in 2007. He recently completed his latest novel in the triology. ‘The Tyrant & The Squire’ was released in July, 2016.

An excerpt from ‘The Tyrant & the Squire’:

“If only life were as simple as you think it’s going to be,” thought Tom, “it wouldn’t be nearly such fun. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous either.” (

If only life were as simple, indeed.

Watch a 2012 Youtube video interview with George Stroumboulopoulos and Terry Jones

About blasphemy libel: ‘The offence of blasphemy was rarely prosecuted in the twentieth century. There was no reported case between 1922 and 1979. However, in the middle twentieth century, blasphemy was policed extra-legally; it was curtailed ‘by the fears, anxieties and sensitivities of individuals’ rather than by law: Mary Whitehouse (Anglican vicar and leader of the Moral Re-Armament Committee, U.K.), led a campaign against Monty Python’s Life of Brian.’


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