Neil Innes, a British singer, songwriter and comedian known for his work with “Monty Python,” the Rutles and the madcap ‘60s outfit the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, died Sunday at the age of 75, according to the BBC and multiple news outlets.
In addition to being a key member of the Bonzos — whose 1968 single “I’m the Urban Spaceman” was produced by Paul McCartney under a pseudonym — Innes appeared in many projects related to the British comedy troupe “Monty Python,” including the lead minstrel in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (that’s him singing “Brave Sir Robin”) and the Beatles spoof documentary “All You Need Is Cash,” where he was the main songwriter and played the John Lennon character Ron Nasty.
A spokesman for the family told the BBC that Innes had not been suffering from any illness and had “passed away unexpectedly on Sunday night.” He had been travelling home from France with his family.
“It is with deep sorrow and great sadness that we have to announce the death of Neil James Innes on 29 December 2019,” a statement from the family reads. “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.”
Born in England in 1944, Innes learned several instruments as a child and graduated from Goldsmiths University in 1966. He joined the Bonzos that year and was the group’s de facto musical director, cowriting nearly all of its songs with frontman Vivian Stanshall. The group released four albums between 1967 and 1972 — songs from which spawned the titles of both the influential American rock magazine Trouser Press and the band Death Cab for Cutie — and reformed several times over the years.
Innes also wrote songs and appeared in several episodes of Python’s last season in 1974, as well as the troupe’s later films “Life of Brian,” “Jabberwocky” and other projects. He joined Python’s Eric Idle in a subsequent series called “Rutland Weekend Television,” which spawned the Rutles project.
While the Rutles spoof made merciless mockery of the Beatles’ history (in a move of questionable taste, the Yoko Ono character was a Nazi), the Fab Four themselves were largely quite amused by it and George Harrison himself appeared in it as a newscaster. The project began a long association between Harrison and Python’s Eric Idle, leading to films such as “Time Bandits.” The Beatles’ publisher at the time, ATV Music, successfully argued that Lennon and McCartney should receive songwriting credits for the Rutles’ songs, and ultimately settled out of court. Years later, Innes was added to the credits of Oasis’ 1994 track “Whatever” — ironically written by bandleader Noel Gallagher, a devoted and vocal Beatles fan — which was ruled to have infringed on the copyright of his song “How Sweet to Be an Idiot.”
In the wake of the Beatles’ 1990s “Anthology” retrospective, Innes reformed a version of the Rutles and toured with it in 1996, and in recent years played with Beatles tribute act the Bootleg Beatles.
“People were desperate to get the Beatles back together and a guy in America was offering them $20 million each for a reunion! It was quite absurd,” Innes told NPR in 2012. “And George Harrison, who by then was closely involved with the Pythons, felt something even sillier needed to be done. He loved every moment of The Rutles. The 1996 revival for our Archaeology album was even funnier really.”
A film about Innes’ life called “The Seventh Python” was released in 2008.