Heck of a Guy Eulogy Research Lives On
As I noted in He Was One Heck Of A Guy – The Eulogy, my personal participation in the preparation of my eulogy appears necessary if the desired high-quality, fulsomely overblown, raucous yet cockle-warming send-off is to be assured.
Currently, that effort focuses on a search for emulation-worthy eulogies that could provide inspiration for my own effort – or, failing that, substantial chunks of prose that could be lifted directly into my personal panegyric.
Today’s post showcases an outstanding specimen of the genre, the brilliant tour de force given by John Cleese at the memorial service for his Monty Python colleague, Graham Chapman.
Graham Chapman’s Memorial Service
Graham Chapman, comedian, actor, writer, physician, and one of the six members of the Monty Python crew died October 4, 1989.1
His memorial service was held on the evening of December 6 1989 in the Great Hall at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. John Cleese delivered the eulogy. Afterward, Cleese joined Gilliam, Jones, and Palin along with Chapman’s other friends as Idle led them in a rendition of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Graham Chapman’s Memorial Service was filmed and produced by Mark Chapman for the BBC Omnibus presentation of Life of Python, 1989, and dedicated in his memory.
Graham Chapman’s Memorial Speech
Delivered by John Cleese
Graham Chapman, co-author of the ‘Parrot Sketch,’2 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, such capability and kindness, of such intelligence should now be so suddenly spirited away at the age of only forty-eight, 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 think I should say this is, he would never forgive me if I didn’t, if I threw away this 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, you’re very proud of being the first person to ever say ‘shit’ on television. If this service is really for me, just for starters, I want you to be the first person ever at a British memorial service to say ‘fuck!'”
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 Mardsen…’3
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, synchronised 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 symbolised 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 twenty 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 realised 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.
Note: Originally posted Jan 28, 2008 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com
- Chapman’s death occurred one day before the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Flying Circus; Terry Jones called it “the worst case of party-pooping in all history.” After Chapman’s death, speculation of a Python revival inevitably faded, with Idle saying, “we would only do a reunion if Chapman came back from the dead. So we’re negotiating with his agent.” (From Wikipedia) [↩]
- Cleese and Chapman co-wrote many classic Python sketches, including the “Dead Parrot Sketch.” In the original version, written mostly by Cleese, the frustrated customer was trying to return a faulty toaster to a shop. Chapman came up with the idea that returning a dead parrot to a pet shop might make a more interesting subject than a toaster. (From Wikipedia) [↩]
- During his ‘drinking days’, Chapman jokingly referred to himself as the British actress Betty Marsden, possibly because of Marsden’s oft-quoted desire to die with a glass of gin in her hand. (From Wikipedia) Chapman would sporadically shout odd words, exclamations, and noises with no apparent connection to any ongoing conversations or events; one favorite, frequently invoked phrase was “Betty Marsden.” (From Graham Chapman) [↩]