Famous Eulogies: John Cleese on Graham Chapman

Some eulogies provide a profoundly meaningful, lasting tribute to the deceased

Graham Chapman, founding member of Monty Python. Photo © John Downing/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ideally, a well-crafted and well-delivered eulogy illuminates and elucidates special qualities about the deceased that enhance the existing emotional and spiritual connections between the person who died and the living, thereby focusing and increasing a listener's appreciation of the life lost. In some cases, the eulogy itself proves a memorable and meaningful embodiment of both the unique nature of the departed and the depth of feeling that endures in the hearts and minds of those who remain.

This article presents the text of just such an enduring remembrance speech: the eulogy of Graham Chapman by John Cleese, both founding members of the highly irreverent British comedy troupe, Monty Python. Chapman died at age 48 from cancer on October 4, 1989. While this eulogy might offend some people because it is very unconventional ("something completely different," to borrow the group's well known catchphrase), Python fans will likely understand and appreciate the heartfelt nature of Cleese's remarks and that, ultimately, this eulogy fittingly encapsulates the life of his longtime friend and professional peer.

Graham Chapman's Eulogy by John Cleese, December 1989

Graham Chapman, co-author of the "Parrot Sketch," is no more.

He has ceased to be. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. He has kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the Great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky.

And I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, of such capability... the kindness... of such intelligence, should now so suddenly be spirited away at the age of only 48, before he'd achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he'd had enough fun.

Well, I feel that I should say, "Nonsense.

Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries."

And the reason I feel I should say this is he would never forgive me if I didn't; if I threw away this glorious opportunity to shock you all on his behalf. Anything for him but mindless good taste.

I could hear him whispering in my ear last night as I was writing this: "Alright, Cleese," he was saying, "you're very proud of being the very first person ever to say 'sh**' on British television. If this service is really for me, just for starters, I want you to become the first person ever at a British memorial service to say 'fu**'!"

You see, the trouble is, I can't. If he were here with me now, I would probably have the courage because he always emboldened me. But the truth is, I lack his balls, his splendid defiance. And so I'll have to content myself, instead, with saying, "Betty Marsden."

But bolder and less-inhibited spirits than me follow today. Jones and Idle, Gilliam and Palin. Heaven knows what the next hour will bring in Graham's name. Trousers dropping, blasphemers on pogo sticks, spectacular displays of high-speed farting, synchronized incest. One of the four is planning to stuff a dead ocelot and a 1922 Remington typewriter up his own arse to the sound of the second movement of Elgar's cello concerto.

And that's in the first half.

Because you see, Gray would have wanted it this way. Really. Anything for him but mindless good taste. And that's what I'll always remember about him -- apart, of course, from his Olympian extravagance. He was the prince of bad taste. He loved to shock. In fact, Gray, more than anyone I knew, embodied and symbolized all that was most offensive and juvenile in Monty Python.

And his delight in shocking people led him on to greater and greater feats. I like to think of him as the pioneering beacon that beat the path along which fainter spirits could follow.

Some memories: I remember writing the undertaker speech with him, and him suggesting the punch line, "All right, we'll eat her, but if you feel bad about it afterwards, we'll dig a grave and you can throw up into it."

I remember discovering in 1969, when we wrote every day at the flat where Connie Booth and I lived, that he'd recently discovered the game of printing four-letter words on neat little squares of paper and then quietly placing them at strategic points around our flat, forcing Connie and me into frantic last-minute paper chases whenever we were expecting important guests.

I remember him at BBC parties crawling around on all fours, rubbing himself affectionately against the legs of gray-suited executives and delicately nibbling the more appetizing female calves. Mrs. Eric Morecambe remembers that, too.

I remember his being invited to speak at the Oxford Union and entering the chamber dressed as a carrot -- a full-length, orange, tapering costume with a large, bright-green sprig as a hat -- and then, when his turn came to speak, refusing to do so. He just stood there, literally speechless, for 20 minutes, smiling beatifically -- the only time in world history that a totally silent man has succeeded in inciting a riot.

I remember Graham receiving a Sun newspaper TV award from Reggie Maudling -- Who else! -- and taking the trophy, falling to the ground and crawling all the way back to his table, screaming loudly -- as loudly as he could. And if you remember Gray, that was very loud indeed.

It is magnificent, isn't it? You see, the thing about shock is not that it upsets some people, I think; I think that it gives others a momentary joy of liberation as we realize, in that instant, that the social rules that constrict our lives so terribly are not actually very important.

Well, Gray can't do that for us anymore. He's gone. He is an ex-Chapman. All we have of him now is our memories. But it will be some time before they fade.

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