Eric Idle

On this date in 1943, Eric Idle was born in County Durham, England: “By odd coincidence, I was born on my birthday,” he quips in his memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (2018). His father died in World War II and his mother sent him away to school when he was 5. When he was 7, she placed him in the Royal School Wolverhampton, previously known as the Royal Orphanage. He was there until he “managed to escape” at age 19: “It was a physically abusive, bullying, harsh environment for a kid.”

Accepted by Cambridge University, he discovered comedy. He was president of Footlights Revue and graduated in 1965. He worked in several television comedies, including “The Frost Report.” He wrote “All You Need Is Cash” (aka “The Rutles”), a mockumentary about a fictional band created for an earlier TV sketch. He teamed up with Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman and John Cleese for the enduring TV classic, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (1969-74).

The cast produced several irreverent movies, with Idle a driving force, including “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975), which spoofed religion and the Crusades. “Monty Python’s The Life of Brian” (1979) depicts what happens after Brian (played by Chapman) is born on Christmas in a stable next to Jesus’ and spends his life getting mistaken for a messiah. In his memoir, Idle recounts how difficult it was to get studio backing for “The Life of Brian.” His friend George Harrison saved the day by mortgaging his mansion to pay for the entire $4.5 million budget: “It’s still the most anyone has ever paid for a cinema ticket,” he quipped. The film memorably ends with the victims of crucifixion singing Idle’s song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Idle writes, “The song was supposed to be ironic, but it ended up being iconic.”

“The Meaning of Life” (1983) contains Idle’s other signature “Galaxy Song,” reminding humans of their insignificance and drawing on Idle’s interest in science. Idle has appeared in many other comedies, including “Nuns on the Run” (1990) and frequently tours the country with his revues. He also wrote the Tony Award-winning musical “Spamalot” (2005). He recruited his surviving fellow Pythons to a memorable reunion in 2014. One of the final shows, which was streamed live globally, included a skit in which his scientist friend Brian Cox nitpicks at some of the dated lyrics in the “Galaxy Song,” ending when Stephen Hawking appears to run over Cox with his wheelchair.

In his memoir he terms himself an “old agnostic” and writes, “Dust to dust is about right. We dissipate into the carbon atoms we came from; technically, reincarnation is sort of correct, we get reassembled into other things.” He has suggested he’d like his tombstone to say: “I’d like a second opinion.” Idle married actor Lyn Ashley in 1969. They have a son, Carey. After divorcing in 1975, he married former model Tania Kosevich in 1981. They have a daughter, Lily.

PHOTO: Idle in 2014; Eduardo Unda-Sanzana photo under CC 2.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation