John Cleese was born on October 27, 1939, in Weston-Super-Mare, England. He was born into a family of modest means, his father being an insurance salesman; but he was nonetheless sent off to private schools to obtain a good education. Here he was often tormented for his height, having reached a height of six feet by the age of twelve, and eventually discovered that being humorous could deflect aggressive behavior in others. He loved humor in and of itself, collected jokes, and, like many young Britons who would grow up to be comedians, was devoted to the radio comedy show, "The Goon Show," starring the legendary Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe.
Cleese did well in both sports and academics, but his real love was comedy. He attended Cambridge to read (study) Law, but devoted a great deal of time to the university's legendary Footlights group, writing and performing in comedy reviews, often in collaboration with future fellow Python Graham Chapman. Several of these comedy reviews met with great success, including one in particular which toured under the name "Cambridge Circus." When Cleese graduated, he went on to write for the BBC, then rejoined Cambridge Circus in 1964, which toured New Zealand and America. He remained in America after leaving Cambridge Circus, performing and doing a little journalism, and here met Terry Gilliam, another future Python.
Returning to England, he began appearing in a BBC radio series, "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again", based on Cambridge Circus. It ran for several years and also starred future Goodies Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden. He also appeared, briefly, with Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman in "At Last the 1948 Show" (1967), for television, and a series of collaborations with some of the finest comedy-writing talent in England at the time, some of whom - Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Chapman - eventually joined him in Monty Python. These programs included "The Frost Report" (1966) and Marty Feldman's program "Marty" (1968). Eventually, however, the writers were themselves collected to be the talent for their own program, "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (1969), which displayed a strange and completely absorbing blend of low farce and high-concept absurdist humor, and remains influential to this day.
After three seasons of the intensity of Monty Python, Cleese left the show, though he collaborated with one or more of the other Pythons for decades to come, including the Python movies released in the mid-70s to early 80s - Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Life of Brian (1979), Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), and The Meaning of Life (1983). Cleese and then-wife Connie Booth collaborated in the legendary television series "Fawlty Towers" (1975), as the sharp-tongued, rude, bumbling yet somehow lovable proprietor of an English seaside hotel. Cleese based this character on a proprietor he had met while staying with the other Pythons at a hotel in Torquay, England. Only a dozen episodes were made, but each is truly hilarious, and he is still closely associated with the program to this day.
Meanwhile Cleese had established a production company, Video Arts, for clever business training videos in which he generally starred, which were and continue to be enormously successful in the English-speaking world. He continues to act prolifically in movies, including in the hit comedy A Fish Called Wanda (1988), in the Harry Potter series, and in the James Bond series as the new Q, starting with The World Is Not Enough (1999), in which he began as R before graduating to Q. Cleese also supplies his voice to numerous animated and video projects, and frequently does commercials.
Besides the infamous Basil Fawlty character, Cleese's other well-known trademark is his rendition of an English upper-class toff. He has a daughter with Connie Booth and a daughter with his second wife, Barbara Trentham. As of January 19, 2008, he became embroiled in divorce proceedings with third wife (of nineteen years) Alyce Faye Eichelberger.
Education and learning are important elements of his life - he was Rector of the University of Saint Andrews from 1973 until 1976, and continues to be a professor-at-large of Cornell University in New York. Cleese lives in Santa Barbara, California.
|Jennifer Wade||(2 August 2012 - present)|
|Alyce Faye Eichelberger||(28 December 1992 - January 2008) (divorced)|
|Barbara Trentham||(15 February 1981 - 10 October 1990) (divorced) 1 child|
|Connie Booth||(20 February 1968 - 1 August 1978) (divorced) 1 child|
Usually plays uptight or overbearing comic characters.
When on Monty Python's flying circus, he would introduce sketches with the famous line "And now for something completely different"
Member of the comedy group "Monty Python".
Holds a law degree from Cambridge University.
He was a cast member of the highly successful radio show "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again". His fellow cast members were Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, David Hatch and Jo Kendall. It was during this radio show that Cleese's famous 'Ferret Song' (later sung on the television series, "At Last the 1948 Show" (1967)) was first heard.
Was a member of the prestigious Cambridge University Footlights Club.
When he had to join the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 1989, for his third appearance on American TV, none of the staff at the AFTRA office recognized him, or had any idea who he was.
Ever since one of his most famous Monty Python sketches, The Ministry of Silly Walks, he has found himself continually pestered by admirers to do silly walks for them.
Who's Who lists his recreations as "gluttony, sloth."
Rector of University of St Andrews from 1970-1973.
According to Brian Henson, when Cleese guest-starred on "The Muppet Show" (1976), he enjoyed the show very much and became very close with the writers because he wanted to get involved in the writing. When he did get involved with the writing, he and the other writers came up with a concept where Cleese was being held against his will on the show and would try to get off the show while the Muppets were trying to get him to do his scheduled bits. Of course, in this case, life did not imitate art, as a few years later, Cleese appeared again with the Muppets in the film The Great Muppet Caper (1981).
Is an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.
Co-owns the Christine Schell Fine Objects antique shop in Montecito, CA.
John's father's name was Reg Cleese but his grandfather was named John Edwin Cheese. He changed his name when he joined the British army in 1915.
Reached adult height of 6' 4 3/4" by the age of 13.
Said he was to be the first person to say the F-word at a memorial service when he spoke at Graham Chapman's.
His mother, Muriel Cleese (b. Cross, 5 October 1899 - 5 October 2000) died on her 101st birthday.
The inspiration for "Fawlty Towers" (1975) came from a hotel stay he had with the other Pythons in the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, England. The hotel manager was called Donald Sinclair, someone Cleese considered to be the rudest man he had ever encountered. He later played a character by the name of Donald P. Sinclair in Rat Race (2001).
When he left the Monty Python team, he was approached by the BBC to do something else, and together with Booth, created "Fawlty Towers (1975)" based on their experiences in a Torquay hotel.
In the late 1990s he appeared in German TV commercials for a lottery service. He actually spoke German in some of these spots (while some had no dialogue and others were dubbed later on).
When the Globe Theatre was rebuilt in London, a service was offered whereby you could have your name on a tile in the courtyard, for a donation to the project. Cleese and fellow python Michael Palin both signed up for tiles, but Palin's was spelled wrong. Cleese paid extra to ensure it would be spelled "Pallin."
Was the tallest member of Monty Python, having been about 2 inches taller than Graham Chapman.
Father-in-law of Ed Solomon.
He allegedly refused the British Honour of the C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1996.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 108-109. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
Appeared in a series of educational short subjects produced by the British company Video Arts designed to teach management and trainees how to handle stress and unusual situations. Cleese took advantage of his comic talents and portrayed events as absurd situations so that audiences would better remember their training.
Terry Gilliam noted among his Monty Python co-stars that there seemed to be a division between the taller, more "aggressive" Cambridge men (Cleese, Graham Chapman, & Eric Idle) and the shorter, lighter-humored Oxford men (Michael Palin & Terry Jones), the latter of which the American Gilliam found himself closer to. Gilliam considered Cleese the most "Cambridge" of the group, being the tallest and most "aggressive" member of Monty Python.
Has resided for many years in the prestigious Chicago North Shore suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois.
Former supporter of the Liberal Democrat political party.
Has said that Cornell University is set in one of the most beautiful locations on earth.
In 2005, offered a part of his colon, removed due to diverticulitis, for sale on his official website. The proceeds are reportedly to be divided between Cleese himself and his surgeon.
Father Reg Cleese was an insurance salesman.
As a child loved the radio comedy show "The Goon Show".
A newly discovered species of lemur, avahi cleesei, was named after him in honor of his love of the endangered primates, which figure prominently in his movie, Fierce Creatures (1997).
He and Terry Gilliam are the only members of Monty Python to be nominated for Oscars. Coincidentally, they were both for Best Original Screenplay, Gilliam for Brazil (1985) and Cleese for A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Both screenplays did not win their Oscars, and both films featured Michael Palin.
Campaigned long, hard but unsuccessfully to win the role of Brian in Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) because he wanted to expand his range in his first substantial film role, but the rest of the group favored the late Graham Chapman, and eventually the group persuaded Cleese that Chapman was better suited to the part of Brian and Cleese stepped aside.
Just to see if anyone would notice, during the early 1970s Cleese added one obviously fake film per year to his annual filmography listing in Who's Who. For the record, these fake films were "The Bonar Law Story" (1971), "Abbott & Costello Meet Sir Michael Swann" (1972), "The Young Anthony Barber" (1973) and "Confessions of a Programme Planner" (1974). Although Cleese confessed to the gag in the 1980s, mentions of these bogus films still appear from time to time in scholarly works on Cleese, including the entry in the Encyclopedia of Television, 1st ed. (1996) edited by Horace Newcomb.
Was invited to the party Steve Martin was throwing that turned out to be his wedding.
When he first started acting his original goal was to be a classically trained Shakespearean actor.
The role of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast (1991) was written with him in mind, and no other actor was considered for the role. But he still turned it down.
Offered to write speeches for Democratic Presidential candidate 'Barack Obama'. 
Helped his daughter, Camilla Cleese, to kick her drug habit (which started when she was 11) by sending her to a psychiatric ward and then a rehab clinic. After more stints in rehab, she finally kicked her drug and alcohol habit in 2007 and praised her father for helping turn her life around [December 21, 2008).
Provided the voice of God in Spamalot.
During the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland, air travel across northern Europe was severely disrupted. Cleese, in Oslo on April 17 but needing to get to London by April 19, paid £3,300 for a cab ride to Brussels to catch a ferry ride.
Supports Bristol City Football Club.
He suffered from depression between 1973 and 1976.
He didn't learn to drive a car until 1976.
He is a cat lover, particularly of the Siamese breed and once named 5 of them after types of cheese. Incidently, he was fond of cheese until he discovered he is lactose intolerant.
[in 2001] I think there's much more fear now than there used to be, much more fear of failure.
[in 2001] You go in and meet the head of BBC One and get an assurance about not dumbing down. And then, of course a few months later, he's been replaced by someone you haven't met.
It's lovely that Harry Potter and the Bond movies are still shot in England - that's a great pleasure, but it's true that most of the well-paid work is in America.
I never enjoyed The Meaning of Life (1983). I always regarded that entire film as a bit of a cockup.
In Britain, girls seem to be either bright or attractive. In America, that's not the case. They're both.
[about his move from England to California] At my age, I want to wake up and see sunshine pouring in through the windows every day.
I'm probably the worst singer in Europe. I won't compete for North America.
When I was a child and I was upset about something, my mother was not capable of containing that emotion, of letting me be upset but reassuring me, of just being with me in a calming way. She always got in a flap, so I not only had my own baby panics, fears and terrors to deal with, but I had to cope with hers, too. Eventually I taught myself to remain calm when I was panicked, in order not to upset her. In a way, she had managed to put me in charge of her. At 18 months old, I was doing the parenting.
My mum died about three years ago at the age of 101, and just towards the end, as she began to run out of energy, she did actually stop trying to tell me what to do most of the time.
I don't think anyone should be educated sexually. There's far too many people on the planet. If we could hush it up for a few years, that would help.
If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.
You don't have to be the Dalai Lama to tell people that life's about change.
I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me.
When people say "I'm not a prude, but..." what they mean is "I am a prude, and..."
[from the eulogy he gave at Graham Chapman's memorial service] And I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, a man of such capability and kindness, of such unusual intelligence, should now, so suddenly, be spirited away at the age of only 48, before he'd achieved many of the things 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.
Filming is like a long air journey: there's so much hanging around and boredom that they keep giving you food.
When (third wife) Alyce Faye Eichelberger had her hip replacement I realised that there was a chance for a little humour and I sent a bunch of flowers to her lawyer's office saying, 'Would you please inspect these flowers and see whether they are acceptable and would you please vet the greetings card that comes with these and see whether that is also legitimate. And if you are satisfied that both of them are not harmful, would you be good enough to send them on to my wife as soon as possible?' To which the lawyer replied: 'As the trade papers say, he's not as funny as he was.' The sort of leaden, nasty - what's the word? - black-hearted response to a little conceit.
I think marriage should be like dog licences. I think you should have to renew marriage licences every five years, unless you have children. And I think before you have children you should have to go and pass various tests and get a licence to have a child. Because it's the most transformative and difficult thing of your life. Far more important [than work]. People don't understand this, and some people who are highly motivated by work, but when I worked I was always motivated, funnily enough, by the fear of being bad. Because it is so humiliating to make a joke and have no one laugh.
I don't want to have to start being unselfish again. The great thing about being on your own is you do what you damn well like.
I had a very, very difficult relationship with my mother, who was supremely self-centred. She was hilariously self-centred. She did not really take interest in anything that didn't immediately affect her."
On his divorce from Alyce Faye Eichelberger: This is the happiest I have ever been and I feel that at 68 now I want as many years as I can get.
It's very important for me that my friends have a sense of humour. To me it's the kind of touchstone of communication. Alyce Faye Eichelberger's sense of humour was not very European, because she was from Oklahoma and I used to joke that the Oklahoma Sense of Irony is one of the world's short books.
[on his divorce from Alyce Faye Eichelberger]: I feel angry sometimes. But my anger is not so much about sharing the property but having to go on working hard to provide alimony for someone who's already going to have at least $10 million worth of property, and who's getting £1 million this year. At some point you say, 'Well, what did I do wrong? You know, I was the breadwinner.' The system is insane.
We broke up in the marital therapist's office. We'd been seeing them for a couple of years. And we agreed to break up and three weeks later I heard about the lawyer that she was using and I rang her up and said, 'Do you know this lawyer's reputation?' And she said, 'I hear that yours can be pretty nasty, too.' And I said, 'OK, here's an offer. You get rid of yours. I'll get rid of mine. I'll appoint someone you're comfortable with, you appoint someone I'm comfortable with and it could be fairly easy.' And she said, 'No, I'm not interested. I would like to stay with the present situation.'
When I got divorced from Connie Booth, with whom I had dinner on Sunday, and when I got divorced from Barbara Trentham, I didn't need lawyers on either occasion, because I just sort of said, 'Why don't I give you this?' And they said, 'That's very fair, very generous. Thank you.' End of story. This woman [Alyce Faye Eichelberger] now was asking my old St John's Wood accountants for 60 boxes of documents, so many documents that they had to send people out from California to go through them.
I'm uneasy about censorship so I think that it's important to hire people who have good enough taste to censor themselves. I've always thought that Jonathan Ross would have fallen into this category. (On BBC presenter Jonathan Ross's obscene phone calls to his "Fawlty Towers" (1975) co-star Andrew Sachs in 2008)
On making commercials to support himself and then-wife Connie Booth while writing "Fawlty Towers" (1975): I have to thank the advertising industry for making this possible. Connie and I used to spend six weeks writing each episode and we didn't make a lot of money out of it. If it hadn't been for the commercials I wouldn't have been able to afford to spend so much time on the script.
Why anyone who has not committed a punishable offense would listen to country and western music is beyond me.
I think that phone call was astoundingly tasteless. Apparently Russell Brand had actually slept with the girl, who works in a slightly raunchy club. Oh yes, a burlesque club. Anyway ... I can't imagine why they would ring Andrew (Andrew Sachs) up. It was, as I say, very tasteless. I thought that was extraordinary, especially as I've met Jonathan Ross and liked him; it's very hard to see why he would have done it.
In the early days of my career, I'd have these moments of utter delight: at the age of 21, I discovered Buster Keaton; at 24 it was Harold Lloyd; then W.C. Fields. Just occasionally, one discovers someone new for oneself. I thought Bill Hicks was a genius, Eddie Izzard too. I don't want to be mean but there are several highly regarded shows around right now - and I'm not talking about Ricky Gervais, because I think he's excellent - that I don't much care for. So basically I keep my mouth shut. At this stage of my life I have to accept that I'm not likely to come across anything as startlingly good as Buster Keaton.
Most of the bad taste I've been accused of has been generic bad taste; it's been making fun of an idea as opposed to a person. Oddly enough, the one or two jokes I really regret on Python are the more personal ones. We did have this thing about David Hemmings ... something about him being played by a piece of wood. At the end there was a voice-over saying: "David Hemmings appeared by permission of the Forestry Commission." Afterwards, I felt just a little bit guilty.
I think that money spoils most things, once it becomes the primary motivating force.
I don't miss London much. I find it crowded, vast and difficult to get around. Cabs are incredibly expensive.
England changed much more than I did. We used to have some sort of middle class culture with an adequate amount of respect for education. It was a bit racist - not in a mean way though, but still racist. Some things have changed for the better. But it's not a middle class culture anymore, but a yob culture, a rowdy culture.
I always felt attracted by Austrian and German culture in a certain way. I've always liked Vienna. I never saw so much theatre and music and so many museums anywhere else. I like the city's velocity and the food. It doesn't have the tackiness of other big cities. I considered renting a small flat in Switzerland. I love being in Lyon, Strasbourg, Munich and Milan in four hours from there.
If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can persuade you to laugh at the particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge its truth.
The divorce settlement absolutely affects every decision I make professionally. I have to earn $1 million a year before I even get to keep a penny and I have to build my professional choices around that fact. It annoys me that in my seventies I am having to live in a way I don't choose to live. Imagine how much I'd have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship - such as children or a conversation.
When I was growing up, we had the best television in the world. Now it's as bad as it is everywhere else, and I don't particularly want to participate in that. I don't really watch TV these days, except live sport. There's nothing much that appeals to me and I would rather read a book.
I was asked to do a reality show a few months ago. I forget which one it was, it might have been the jungle one or perhaps Celebrity Root Canal. I just laughed, then asked how much they were offering out of curiosity. It was £200,000, but I would never agree to one of those shows. That would mean the collapse of western civilization. There is always a filter when it comes to accepting work. I call it the EQ - the embarrassment quota. I will only do embarrassing things if there is a lot of money involved and people won't really know about it.
Some people ask me to do ads and I think, I don't really want to sell potato crisps.
Although my inclinations are slightly left-of-center, I was terribly disappointed with the last Labour government. Gordon Brown lacked emotional intelligence and was never a leader.
It's the people who try desperately to put a measured surface over secret anger seething away underneath who give you the sense of most violence. (quoted in Penelope Gilliatt, _To Wit: Skin and Bones of Comedy_, 1990)
Someone telephonically knowledgeable and I had a bit of an argument about that. He said that telephone booths didn't work because they were vandalized. I said they were vandalized because they didn't work.
I'm in a very strange situation. Because of the tax situation in the UK and because I have to pay this enormous alimony every year of one million dollars, I discovered that if I live in London, which I was intending to do, I have to make two million dollars before I keep a penny. That's quite a lot. So I'm not going to be living in London. The result of that for at least a year, I'm hardly allowed to go back there at all. (On why he has to avoid living in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics)
(On British television) I don't think the writers work as hard as they used to, and I think they may lack experience because I don't think the writing is as good as it used to be. But I do proudly say that in the 60s, 70s and 80s we did have the least bad television in the world, and that's quite a claim. I think the main problem now is it's run on the basis of money.
(On "Fawlty Towers" (1975)) There is a famous note which I have a copy of, I think it's framed. What happened was, Connie and I wrote that first episode and we sent it in to Jimmy Gilbert (James Gilbert). And first of all the fellow whose job it was to assess the quality of the writing said, and I can quote it fairly accurately, 'This is full of clichéd situations and stereotypical characters and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster'. And Jimmy himself said 'You're going to have to get them out of the hotel, John, you can't do the whole thing in the hotel'. Whereas, of course, it's in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up.
[on the BBC in 2013] The people who became executives [in the Sixties and Seventies] had produced or directed a great deal of comedy. Now there seems to be an executive class and they have never written and never directed.
[a view of Britain in 2012] The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from 'Miffed' to 'Peeved'. Soon though, security levels may be raised yet again to 'Irritated' or even 'A Bit Cross'. The English have not been 'A Bit Cross' since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from 'Tiresome' to 'A Bloody Nuisance'. The last time the British issued a 'Bloody Nuisance' warning level was 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada. The Scots have raised their threat level from 'Pissed Off' to 'Let's Get the Bastards'. They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British Army for the last 300 years.
(February 2005) Provided recorded voice of God for the Broadway musical "Monty Python's Spamalot."
(November 2005) Currently touring New Zealand with his new stage show "John Cleese, His Life and His Current Medical Conditions" (or something very similar)
(June 2006) He lives in Montecito, California.
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