Comic Musician Neil Innes Dies at 75

Neil Innes played with the Rutles, wrote for Monty Python and performed in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour.

Neil Innes

“I have suffered for my music,” Neil Innes admitted on the British comedy series Rutland Weekend Television. “Now it’s your turn.” The renowned comedian and musician, who played the John Lennon role in The Beatles spoof band The Rutles and collaborated with the Monty Python Flying Circus, died unexpectedly on Sunday night at age 75, according to his official website. A spokesman for the Innes family said the artist had not been ill.

“It is with deep sorrow and great sadness that we have to announce the death of Neil James Innes on December 29, 2019,” his family wrote in a statement. “We have lost a beautiful, kind, gentle soul whose music and songs touched the heart of everyone and whose intellect and search for truth inspired us all. He died of natural causes quickly without warning and, I think, without pain. His wife Yvonne and their three sons, Miles, Luke and Barney and three grandchildren Max, Issy and Zac give thanks for his life, for his music and for the joy he gave us all.”

Innes’ group, the Bonzo Dog Band, were handpicked by the Beatles to perform the song, “Death Cab for Cutie,” in the 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. Innes was born in Danbury, Essex, England, and raised in West Germany, where his father, a warrant officer in the British Army, was stationed. He took piano lessons from age 7 to 14 and taught himself to play guitar. 

Innes joined the jazz-inflected anarchic musical outfit the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the early 1960s while studying at Goldsmiths College School of Art in London. The group’s 1968 “I’m the Urban Spaceman,” reached number 5 in the U.K. charts that year. After the band broke up, in 1970, the members merged with comedy, poetry and music trio The Scaffold to form the band GRIMMS.

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Innes became involved with the comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the 1970s, writing music for their albums Monty Python’s Previous Record and The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief. He also wrote and performed sketches for the group’s final TV series after the temporary departure of John Cleese. He and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams are the only two non-Monty Python members to be credited as writers on the series.

Innes composed the musical pieces “Knights of the Round Table” and “Brave Sir Robin” for the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He appeared in the Terry Gilliam’s 1977 fantasy comedy feature Jabberwocky playing the Second Herald. He collaborated with Eric Idle on the BBC2 television sketch show Rutland Weekend Television, which ran two seasons in 1975 and 1976.

The sketch show spawned the Beatles spoof band The Rutles, which were the focus of the 1978 mockumentary television film All You Need Is Cash. Innes played the character Ron Nasty, who was based on John Lennon. George Harrison appeared in the film and was involved in production from its very beginnings. In 2002, Idle recreated the magic with The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch.

Innes is credited as a co-writer on the Oasis song “Whatever,” which quotes lines and melodies of Innes’ 1973 song “How Sweet To Be An Idiot.”

Innes formed The Idiot Bastard Band in late 2010. The  comedy musical collective included Adrian Edmondson, Phill Jupitus, Simon Brint and Rowland Rivron, which performed a wide range of comedy songs with deliberately little rehearsal.

Innes, along with the remaining Monty Python members, also performed in the 2002 Concert for George.

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.

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