John Cleese

John Cleese Headshot

Actor • Comedian • Writer • Producer

Birth Date: October 27, 1939

Age: 84 years old

Birth Place: Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, England, UK

Spouses: Connie Booth

As perhaps the most famous of the performers who starred in the irreverent comedy troupe, Monty Python, actor and comedian John Cleese reached legendary status, thanks to his deadpan delivery of ridiculous characters and limber-limbed slapstick antics. Prior to starring on "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (BBC, 1969-1974) with cast mates Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, Cleese had established himself predominantly as a writer and occasional performer on such British series as "The Dick Emery Show" (BBC, 1963-1991) and "The Frost Report" (BBC, 1966). But with Monty Python, Cleese became an international star once the series began airing in America on PBS, which led to several films, two of which - "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1974) and "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979) - became instant classics. Following the death of Chapman in 1989, Monty Python as a full unit ceased to be, though on several occasions the surviving members reunited for various stage performances. Meanwhile, after numerous supporting roles, Cleese broke through with "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), which reintroduced him to a new generation and paved the way for a long, venerable career as a prominent character actor in major Hollywood blockbusters.

Born on Oct. 27, 1939 in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, England, Cleese was raised an only child by his father, Reginald, an insurance salesman, and his mother, Muriel, an acrobat. From a young age, Cleese had developed a keen, subversive sense of humor which served him well at school, where he had trouble fitting in because of his significant height. After attending St Peter's Preparatory School as a boy, he went to Clifton College, where he was an accomplished student studying chemistry, physics and mathematics. Once he graduated from Clifton, Cleese returned to St. Peter's to teach biology for two years, before attending the University of Cambridge to study law. But he also joined The Footlights - the school's famed theatre group that specialized in satire and comedy - where he met future Monty Python members Graham Chapman and Eric Idle. Other notable members included future collaborator and infamous interviewer David Frost, future director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Trevor Nunn, and future National Lampoon editor, Tony Hendra.

From 1961-63, Cleese wrote and performed material for the Footlights Revue "A Clump of Plinths" - later renamed "Cambridge Circus" - in London's West End. The revue later made the trip across the pond to the United States, where Cleese performed off-Broadway and met another future Python, Terry Gilliam, as well as his future first wife, actress-writer Connie Booth. Upon his return to England, Cleese somewhat shockingly embarked on a bright, respectable and awfully dull career at Freshfields, a venerable London law firm. But Cleese was saved by BBC producer Peter Titheridge, who signed him to a contract after having seen the young comedian perform with the Footlights. Cleese began his professional career writing for "The Dick Emery Show" (BBC, 1963-1981), then joined forces with Graham Chapman to write for "The Frost Report" (BBC, 1966), a satirical sketch program that featured many of England's best comedic talents of the day, including two more future Python members, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

Cleese deepened his collaboration with Chapman when the pair wrote their first screenplay, "The Magic Christian" (1968), an absurdist comedy about a homeless man (Ringo Starr) who's adopted by the world's richest man (Peter Sellers). After making his film debut as an actor in "The Bliss of Mrs. Bloom" (1968), Cleese starred in "How to Irritate People" (1968), a made-for-television mockumentary that featured various skits that reflected exactly what the title suggested, though the delivery was more straight-laced than what followed. "How to Irritate People" was also notable for bringing together on screen four of six future Monty Python performers - Cleese, Chapman, Michael Palin and Terry Jones. While continuing to write with Chapman for the BBC, including the pilot episode of the long-running comedy, "Doctor in the House" (ITV, 1969-1991), Cleese, Chapman, Jones, Palin, Eric Idle and American Terry Gilliam developed and starred in "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (BBC, 1969-1974) - perhaps the most notorious and irreverent series to emerge from England.

Over the course of four seasons - or series as they say in England - "Monty Python's Flying Circus" put on display a number of skits, sketches and gags that were both absurdly slapstick and pointedly satirical, often skewering British culture and politics with biting intellectual vigor, hilarious over-the-top characters, and wild animation drawn by Gilliam. While all six members became noted for particular talents, it was Cleese who emerged as the show's true star - sometimes to the bitter disappointment of his cast mates behind the scenes. Each member had their specialty, with Cleese becoming known for playing officious bureaucrats, loose-limbed maniacs and foreigners - often French - with outrageous accents. Some of Cleese's better-known skits were playing "Ken Clean-Air Systems," a mongoloid boxer who does nothing but train, sleep and rub gravel in his hair; a competitor in the goofball competition "Upper Class Twit of the Year;" a disgruntled customer who tries to return a deceased Norwegian Blue in the "Dead Parrot" sketch - perhaps the most popular ever aired on the show - and as a government civil servant who demonstrates his high-legged kick on his way to work in "Ministry of Silly Walks." Though incredibly popular, particularly in America, "Ministry of Silly Walks" was ironically Cleese's least favorite sketch.

During the show's run, the Pythons made their first of four features, "And Now for Something Completely Different" (1971), an ironically titled string of re-shot skits that had already aired on the show, including "Dead Parrot" and "How Not to Be Seen," in which Cleese's steady, bureaucratic voice was put to good use. Once the show ended, the comedy troupe made their second film, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1974), a cult classic that put an irreverent spin on the Arthurian tales, featuring Chapman as the hapless monarch traveling across England during the Dark Ages on a quest to find the holiest of all Christian artifacts. Along the way, he meets all manner of ridiculous characters - a blood-thirsty Sir Lancelot (Cleese), the cowardly Sir Robin (Idle), a Black Knight who refuses to back down even after his arms and legs are hacked off, a killer bunny that can bite the head off a man, and the famous Knights Who Say "Ni!"Cleese enjoyed considerable success outside of Monty Python with a more conventional, but nonetheless uproarious sitcom "Fawlty Towers" (BBC-2, 1975; BBC-2, 1979), co-written with his wife, Connie Booth. Cleese portrayed Basil Fawlty, the perpetually frustrated owner of a resort inn - a sort of middle-class Ralph Kramden on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Despite the show's popularity, Cleese felt two seasons worth was all he could do with the character. Meanwhile, in 1972, Cleese ventured into business as one of the co-founders of Video Arts Ltd., a company specializing in witty training films - in which he often starred - that became the largest training film company in the world outside the United States. Following the second series of "Fawlty Towers," Cleese rejoined his mates for "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979), a biting, hilarious and exceedingly irreverent satire on religion that followed a young Jewish man (Chapman) born during the time of Christ (Ken Colley), who is mistaken for the messiah and hounded to death by his insistent followers. As often was the case with Monty Python, Cleese - and his five co-stars - depicted numerous characters, including the officious leader of an anti-Roman group, a Jewish high priest who is stoned to death, and a clueless Centurion in the Roman army.

By the time the 1980s rolled along, Cleese was well on his way toward making a name for himself outside of Python. He starred in a number of British comedies throughout the decade - "Privates on Parade" (1982), "Yellowbeard" (1983) and "Clockwise" (1986), to name a few. He did reunite with the Pythons for one last major production, "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" (1983), a funny, but uneven return to their sketch comedy roots that depicted a series of vignettes skewering the various stages of life - "Birth," "Growth and Learning," "Fighting Each Other," "Middle Age," "Live Organ Transplants," "The Autumn Years" and "Death." Meanwhile, Cleese become a familiar face in American television commercials and had several memorable turns in Hollywood features: "The Great Muppet Caper" (1981), "Silverado" (1985) and "The Big Picture" (1989). Perhaps his greatest film success was "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), a blockbuster comedy directed by Ealing Studio veteran Charles Crichton and starring Cleese as an uptight British barrister, Jamie Lee Curtis as a sexy con artist, Kevin Kline as her macho boyfriend and Michael Palin as an hilariously tortured animal lover with a stutter. Having written the screenplay, Cleese also served as executive producer, and the little gem that cost slightly more than $7 million to make took in more than $200 million.

Following the surprise success of "Wanda," which was aided in part with Cleese's famous dance wearing nothing but a small picture frame, he appeared alongside Eric Idle and Rick Moranis in "Splitting Heirs" (1993), a strained comedy in the Monty Python tradition which failed to deliver the requisite laughs. Cleese then co-starred in "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (1994), "The Swan Princess" (1996) and "The Wind in the Willows" (1996), before reuniting with his "Wanda" co-stars for "Fierce Creatures" (1997), a pleasant enough, but ultimately disappointing comedy that had no relation character- or plot-wise to their previous effort. As the new millennium approached, Cleese's presence on-screen became more widespread. He played an obnoxious hotel clerk with a penchant for women's clothes in the remake of "The Out-of-Towners" (1999), the apprentice gadget-master, R, who works alongside Q (Desmond Llewelyn) in the James Bond movie, "The World Is Not Enough" (1999), and Simon & Schuster head Dick Snyder in the Jacqueline Susann biopic, "Isn't She Great" (2000).

Cleese may have initially smarted from his ratings-impaired and critically drubbed sitcom "Wednesday at 9:30 (8:30 Central)" (ABC, 2002) and an appearance in one of filmdom's biggest bombs, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" (2002), but he managed to redeem himself with two hugely popular films - portraying Nearly Headless Nick in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002), a character that he first introduced in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001). He also assumed the role of Q after the passing of Llewelyn in "Die Another Day"(2002) - this time bringing even more of his trademark cheek and disdain to the part. The comedian's talents were woefully underused in his turn as Lucy Liu's staid father in "Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle" (2003). That same year, Cleese joined the cast of "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006) in a delightful recurring role as Lyle "Finney" Finster, the paramour of Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) and father of Karen's arch-nemesis (Minnie Driver). The actor also lent his haughty tones to the voice of King Harold, father of Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), in the sequels "Shrek 2" (2004) and "Shrek the Third" (2007).

Cleese and the other surviving members of the Python troupe gave their blessing to Eric Idle's Broadway production of "Spamalot," a stage musical drawn from their 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The 2005 debut earned rave reviews and broke box office records, and although Cleese did not appear in person, he was the only Python in the cast, as he provided the voice of God for the original production. Meanwhile, Cleese ventured more into animated features, providing voiceovers for the captured pigeon, Mercury, in "Valiant" (2005), Samuel the Sheep in "Charlotte's Web" (2006) and Dr. Glickenstein in the barely-seen, but well-reviewed "Igor" (2008). Back in the world of live action, Cleese co-starred in the major Hollywood disaster flick, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (2008), then was confirmed to play Chief Inspector Dreyfus, the scourge and nemesis of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Steve Martin), in "The Pink Panther 2" (2009).

Credits

The Roast of John Cleese

Self
Show
2024

John Cleese: The Dinosaur Hour Replay

Host
Show
2023

John Cleese: The Dinosaur Hour

Host
Show
2023

Rally Road Racers

Voice
Archie Vainglorious
Movie
2023

The Palace

Actor
Arthur William Dallas III
Movie
2023

NRL Bite

Actor
Show
2022

Daddy Daughter Trip

Actor
Frank
Movie
2022

Alexander Pope: Rediscovering a Genius

Self
Show
2021

Clifford the Big Red DogStream

Actor
Bridwell
Movie
2021
58%

Father Christmas Is BackStream

Actor
John Christmas
Movie
2021

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee

Actor
John
Movie
2020

Arctic Justice

Voice
Otto Von Walrus
Movie
2019

A...holes: A Theory

Self
Movie
2019

The Naked Wanderer

Actor
Brian King
Movie
2019

Hold the Sunset

Actor
Phil
Show
2018

The Greatest TV Moments of All Time

Guest
Show
2018

Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer

Voice
Donner
Movie
2018

CharmingStream

Voice
Fairy Godmother / Executioner
Movie
2018

ORF III Spezial zu Ostern

Director
Show
2017

Albion: The Enchanted Stallion

Actor
General Eeder
Movie
2017

SpeechlessStream

Guest Star
Martin
Series
2016

TrollsStream

Voice
King Gristle Sr.
Movie
2016
75%

The Late Show With Stephen ColbertStream

Guest
Talk
2015

Jan Gintberg møder John Cleese

Guest
Show
2015

Absolutely Anything

Voice
Extraterrestrial
Movie
2015

Get Squirrely

Voice
Mr. Bellwood
Movie
2015

A Life on Screen

Guest
Show
2014

Monty Python: The Meaning of Live

Actor
Show
2014

Monty Python's Best Bits (Mostly)

Actor
Show
2014

Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go

Actor
Show
2014

Good Morning Britain

Guest
Show
2014

Late Night With Seth MeyersStream

Guest
Talk
2014

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy FallonStream

Guest
Talk
2014

Spud 3: Learning to Fly

Actor
The Guv
Movie
2014

Meaning of Monty Python

Actor
Show
2013

The Social

Guest
Show
2013

I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, Again

Actor
Show
2013

The Last Impresario

Self
Movie
2013

Spud 2: The Madness Continues

Actor
The Guv
Movie
2013

Planes

Voice
Bulldog
Movie
2013

The Pirate

Actor
Movie
2012

A Liar's Autobiography - The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman

Self
Movie
2012

God Loves Caviar

Actor
McCormick
Movie
2012

Black Cinderella Two Goes East, or Confessions of a Glass Slipper Tryer Onner

Voice
Show
2011

WhitneyStream

Guest Star
Series
2011
21%

Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Narrator
Show
2011

The Many Faces of...

Self
Show
2011

Winnie the Pooh

Narrator
Movie
2011

Beethoven's Christmas Adventure

Voice
The Narrator
Movie
2011

ConanStream

Guest
Talk
2010

Fawlty Towers: Re-Opened

Host
Show
2010

Lorraine

Guest
Show
2010

Shrek uvijek i zauvijek

Actor
Movie
2010

Shrek Forever AfterStream

Voice
King Harold
Movie
2010
57%

Spud

Actor
The Guv - Mr. Edly
Movie
2010

Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)

Actor
Show
2009

The Project

Guest
Show
2009

Skavlan

Guest
Show
2009

Planet 51

Voice
Professor Kipple
Movie
2009

The Pink Panther 2Stream

Actor
Dreyfus
Movie
2009
12%

The Bonnie Hunt Show

Guest
Talk
2008

John Cleese on the Art of Football

Actor
Show
2008

John Cleese on the Art of Football

Writer
Show
2008

IgorStream

Voice
Dr. Glickenstein
Movie
2008
40%

The Day the Earth Stood StillStream

Actor
Professor Barnhardt
Movie
2008
21%

The Graham Norton ShowStream

Guest
Talk
2007

Shrek the ThirdStream

Voice
King Harold
Movie
2007
42%

Shrek the Third 3D

Voice
King Harold
Movie
2007

The One Show

Guest
Show
2006

Monty Python's Personal Best

Actor
Show
2006

Monty Python's Personal Best

Creator
Show
2006

The Art of Football From A to Z

Host
Movie
2006

The Art of Football From A to Z

Screenwriter
Movie
2006

Man About Town

Actor
Dr. Primkin
Movie
2006

Charlotte's WebStream

Voice
Samuel
Movie
2006
79%

L'entente cordiale

Actor
Lord Conrad
Movie
2006

Heroes of Comedy

Guest Star
Show
2005

Juste pour rire gala

Actor
Show
2005

Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys

Actor
Scientist/Doctor
Movie
2005

Valiant

Voice
Mercury
Movie
2005

EntourageStream

Guest Star
John Cleese
Series
2004
65%

Shrek 2Stream

Voice
King Harold
Movie
2004
89%

Around the World in 80 Days

Actor
Sergeant
Movie
2004

Comedy Connections

Guest Star
Show
2003

Taking the Wheel

Actor
Show
2003

Real Time With Bill MaherStream

Guest
Talk
2003

Jimmy Kimmel Live!Stream

Guest
Talk
2003

Charlie's Angels: Full ThrottleStream

Actor
Mr. Munday
Movie
2003
41%

George of the Jungle 2

Actor
Ape
Movie
2003

Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of MouseStream

Narrator
Movie
2002

Loose Women

Guest
Show
2002

Private Passions

Guest
Show
2002

My Adventures in Television

Guest Star
Show
2002

The Adventures of Pluto Nash

Actor
James
Movie
2002

Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsStream

Actor
Nearly Headless Nick
Movie
2002
82%

Die Another DayStream

Actor
Q
Movie
2002
55%

Scorched

Actor
Charles Merchant
Movie
2002

Live With Regis and Kelly

Guest
Show
2001

Rat RaceStream

Actor
Donald Sinclair
Movie
2001
45%

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneStream

Actor
Nearly Headless Nick
Movie
2001
81%

Monty Python: Before the Flying Circus

Actor
Show
2000

Isn't She Great

Actor
Henry Marcus
Movie
2000

The Magic Pudding

Voice
Albert, The Magic Pudding
Movie
2000

Mansbridge One on One

Guest
Show
1999

The Daily Show With Jon StewartStream

Guest
Talk
1999

The World Is Not EnoughStream

Actor
R
Movie
1999
51%

The Out-of-Towners

Actor
Mr. Mersault
Movie
1999

Parting Shots

Actor
Maurice Walpole
Movie
1999

Will & GraceStream

Guest Star
Lyle Finster
Series
1998

Monty Python: Live at Aspen

Actor
Show
1998

George de la Jungla

Actor
Movie
1997

Fierce Creatures

Actor
Rollo Lee
Movie
1997

Fierce Creatures

Producer
Movie
1997

Fierce Creatures

Screenwriter
Movie
1997

George of the JungleStream

Voice
An Ape named "Ape"
Movie
1997
55%

3rd Rock from the SunStream

Guest Star
Series
1996

The Wind in the Willows

Actor
Prawnik pana Ropuchy
Movie
1996

Romance With a Double Bass

Actor
Show
1995

Romance With a Double Bass

Writer
Show
1995

Mary Shelley's FrankensteinStream

Actor
Professor Waldman
Movie
1994
42%

The Swan Princess

Voice
Jean-Bob
Movie
1994

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book

Actor
Dr. Julien Plumford
Movie
1994

Splitting Heirs

Actor
Raoul P. Shadgrind
Movie
1993

20 Years of Monty Python

Screenwriter
Show
1992

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

Voice
Cat R. Waul
Movie
1991

Erik the Viking

Actor
Halfdan the Black
Movie
1989

Bullseye!

Actor
Man on the Beach
Movie
1989

A Fish Called WandaStream

Actor
Archie Leach
Movie
1988
96%

A Fish Called WandaStream

Director
Movie
1988
96%

A Fish Called WandaStream

Executive Producer
Movie
1988
96%

A Fish Called WandaStream

Screenwriter
Movie
1988
96%

Un Poisson nommé Wanda

Actor
Movie
1988

Les Mésaventures de monsieur le Proviseur

Actor
Movie
1986

Clockwise

Actor
Brian Stimpson
Movie
1986

SilveradoStream

Actor
Sheriff John T. Langston
Movie
1985
78%

The Secret Policeman's Private Parts

Self
Movie
1984

Capitán Yellowbeard

Actor
Movie
1983

Yellowbeard

Actor
Harvey "Blind" Pew
Movie
1983

The Meaning of LifeStream

Actor
Fish #2 / Dr. Spenser / Humphrey Williams / Sturridge / Ainsworth / Waiter / Man / Maitre D / Grim Reaper
Movie
1983
86%

The Meaning of LifeStream

Original Music
Movie
1983
86%

The Meaning of LifeStream

Writer
Movie
1983
86%

CheersStream

Guest Star
Dr. Simon Finch-Royce
Series
1982
87%

Whoops Apocalypse

Actor
Show
1982

Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Actor
Movie
1982

Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Writer
Movie
1982

Privates on Parade

Actor
Major Giles Flack
Movie
1982

The Great Muppet CaperStream

Actor
Neville
Movie
1981
78%

Time BanditsStream

Actor
Robin Hood
Movie
1981
91%

The Taming of the Shrew

Actor
Petruchio
Movie
1980

CBS News Sunday Morning

Guest
News
1979

The Secret Policeman's Ball

Actor
Movie
1979

Life of BrianStream

Actor
Wise Man #1/Reg/Jewish Official/Centurion/Deadly Dirk/Arthur
Movie
1979
96%

Life of BrianStream

Writer
Movie
1979
96%

The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It

Actor
Arthur Sherlock-Holmes
Movie
1977

The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It

Writer
Movie
1977

The Mermaid Frolics

Actor
Movie
1977

The Mermaid Frolics

Screenwriter
Movie
1977

Good Morning America

Guest
News
1975

Saturday Night LiveStream

Guest
Series
1975

Fawlty Towers

Actor
Basil Fawlty
Series
1975
100%

Fawlty Towers

Writer
Series
1975
100%

Two Lumps of Cleese

Voice
Show
1975

Monty Python y el Sagrado Grail

Actor
Movie
1975

Monty Python y el Manto Sagrado

Actor
Movie
1975

Monty Python & the Holy GrailStream

Actor
Second Soldier with an Interest in Birds/Large Man with Dead Body/Black Knight/Mr Newt/An Extraordinarily Rude Frenchman/Tim the Wizard/Sir Launcelot
Movie
1975
96%

Monty Python & the Holy GrailStream

Writer
Movie
1975
96%

Last of the Summer WineStream

Guest Star
Series
1973

The Love Ban

Actor
Contraceptives Lecturer
Movie
1973

Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus

Actor
Show
1972

Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus

Writer
Show
1972

And Now for Something Completely Different

Actor
Announcer/Hungarian Man
Movie
1972

And Now for Something Completely Different

Writer
Movie
1972

The Goodies

Guest Star
Show
1970

The Magic Christian

Actor
Director in Sotheby's
Movie
1970

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

Actor
Pumer
Movie
1970

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

Writer
Movie
1970

Monty Python's Flying CircusStream

Actor
Series
1969

Monty Python's Flying CircusStream

Writer
Series
1969

Doctor in the House

Writer
Show
1969

Sez Les

Actor
Show
1969

Sez Les

Guest
Show
1969

Sez Les

Host
Show
1969

Sez Les

Self
Show
1969

Marty

Writer
Show
1968

The Dick Cavett ShowStream

Guest
Talk
1968

At Last the 1948 Show

Actor
Show
1967

At Last the 1948 Show

Creator
Show
1967

At Last the 1948 Show

Editor
Show
1967

W5

Guest
Show
1966

I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again

Self
Show
1964

Doctor WhoStream

Guest Star
Art Gallery Visitor
Series
1963
68%

Classic Doctor Who

Guest Star
Art Gallery Visitor
Show
1963

The AvengersStream

Guest Star
Series
1961

News aboutJohn Cleese