GRAHAM CHAPMAN, the English comedian, actor, writer, physician and one of the six members of the Monty Python comedy troupe, died on this date (b. 1941) He was also the lead actor in their two narrative films, playing King Arthur in Month Python and the Holy Grail and the title character in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Chapman kept his sexuality secret until the mid 1970s when he famously came out on a chat show hosted by British jazz musician George Melly, thus becoming one of the first celebrities to do so. Several days later, he came out to a group of friends at a party held at his home in Belsize Park where he officially introduced them to his partner, David Sherlock, whom he had met in Ibiza in 1966, and subsequently raised their son, John Tomiczek, together.
After Chapman made his sexuality public, a member of the television audience wrote to the Pythons to complain that she had heard a member of the team was Gay, and included in the letter a Biblical passage calling for all homosexuals to be stoned to death. With fellow Pythons already aware of his sexual orientation, Eric Idle replied, “We’ve found out who he was and we’ve taken him out and stoned him.”
Chapman was a vocal spokesman for Gay rights, and in 1972 he lent his support to the fledgling newspaper Gay News, which publicly acknowledged his financial and editorial support by listing him as one of its `special friends.’ Among Chapman’s closest friends were Keith Moon of The Who, singer Harry Nillson, and Beatle Ringo Starr. Asteroid 9617 Grahamchapman, named in Chapman’s honor, is the first in a series of six asteroids carrying the names of members of the Monty Python comedy troupe.
A memorial service was held for Chapman in December 1989 in the Great Hall at St. Bartholomew’s. John Cleese delivered the eulogy (see below); after his initial remarks, he said of his former colleague “…good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries!”, and then pointed out that Chapman would have been disappointed if Cleese passed on the opportunity to scandalize the audience. He explained that Chapman would have been offended had Cleese, the first person to say “shit” on British television, not used Chapman’s own funeral as an opportunity to also become the first person at a British memorial service to use the word “fuck”. 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.
On December 31, 1999 Chapman’s ashes were rumored to have been “blasted into the skies in a rocket.”, though in actual fact, Sherlock scattered Chapman’s ashes on Snowdon, North Wales on June 18, 2005.