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Graham Chapman, Monty Python Genius, Dies of Cancer

October 5, 1989 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ Graham Chapman, a founding member of the zany British comedy group Monty Python, died of cancer at age 48 as his former colleagues talked to him about the good old days, his adopted son said today.

Chapman was rushed to Maidstone General Hospital in southeast England from his nearby home on Tuesday and died there Wednesday night, said his manager, Don Epstein. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

When Chapman died, fellow Monty Python comics Michael Palin and John Cleese were at his bedside, said the adopted son, John Tomiczek. Another member of the troupe, Terry Jones, visited him earlier.


Chapman, an admitted homosexual and reformed alcoholic who smoked a pipe, told reporters in August that a dentist found a cancerous growth on his tonsils during a routine examination.

Later tests showed he was also suffering from cancer of the spine, he said.

He returned to his home last month and was quoted as telling The Sun, Britain’s largest circulation newspaper, that he had beaten the disease.

Tomiczek said: ″Graham had been ill for some time. He had been given the all clear once, but it was a very virulent strain of the cancer.″

He said he sat with Chapman for five hours on Wednesday but left for a moment to allow Cleese and Palin a few moments alone with their friend.

″John Cleese was with him and so was Michael Palin when he died. Michael was talking to him when he died,″ Tomiczek said. ″I wasn’t there at that time, I had just left.″

Chapman was educated at Cambridge University and qualified as a doctor before turning to comedy.

In 1968, he teamed up with Cleese, Palin, Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam to film the television series ″Monty Python’s Flying Circus.″

The show made its debut on the British Broadcasting Corp. on Oct. 5, 1969, in a slot previously filled by a Sunday religious discussion. The last original show was broadcast in December 1974.

The group’s madcap and irreverent approach to comedy was a hit both in Britain and abroad.

Chapman often appeared as a stuffy army officer with a comical upper-class accent. He sometimes appeared in full uniform to announce that a sketch was being stopped because it was too silly.

Later, he played the lead in Monty Python’s first two films, King Arthur in ″Monty Python and the Holy Grail″ and Brian in ″Life of Brian.″

The group celebrated its 20th anniversary three weeks ago by filming a television special to be released later this year.

They had planned a huge anniversary party Wednesday night in London, but it was canceled Wednesday morning when it became apparent how ill Chapman was, said Nancy Lewis, a spokesman for Monty Python in New York.

Jones, now a film writer and director, told Independent Radio News that Chapman went out in true Python style with his usual ″alternative″ sense of timing: ″Last night we were going to have our anniversary party to celebrate 20 years of Python. It was 20 years today since the first program went out.

″I think it’s the worst case of party pooping I have ever come across. We will all miss him, we loved him very much.″

Idle, noting the anniversary, said Chapman’s ″timing, as usual (was) impeccable.″ He recalled the televising of their anniversary show with American actor-comedian Steve Martin.

″He (Chapman) arrived in a wheelchair and looked very ill and very gaunt. Steve Martin who was on the set was very shocked at the way he looked but Graham looked round, laughed and said ‘bit over the top all this isn’t it?’ which broke the ice.

″That is the nice thing about comedy, that is the way comedy deals with situations like this and Graham would be laughing now,″ Idle said.

The Monty Python members had gone their separate ways since their third film, ″Monty Python’s Meaning of Life,″ was released in 1983.

Epstein said Chapman had been writing for television and movies in the United States, and that a comedy film he produced and wrote was about to go into pre-production.

Chapman also starred as a cranky old knight in an English comedy television show called ″Jake’s Journey,″ which CBS added to its fall 1988 schedule because of the writer’s strike.