Born in Leicester, Graham Chapman studied medicine at Cambridge and St. Bartholomew's, but it was his participation in Cambridge's Footlights Club (where he met and partnered with John Cleese) that led to his touring New Zealand with "Cambridge Circus." Comedy overtook his medical career. (His training would still come in handy years later, writing scripts for "Doctor in the House.")
Chapman (together with Cleese) wrote for "That Was the Week That Was," "The Frost Report," "At Last the 1948 Show," "Marty" and "How to Irritate People."
Chapman's surreal brand of humor was an extension of his outré behavior in public places (such as licking the feet of women sitting in restaurants). It provided a spark of lunacy ("Splunge!") that could take Python's comic ideas into the stratosphere.
The son of a police inspector, Chapman often played befuddled or obnoxious policemen, and most notably appeared as the Colonel, who abruptly interrupted sketches or castigated the actors for being "too silly." Other parts included bonkers movie executive Irving C. Saltzberg, Jr.; a cross-dressing cabinet minister; the President of the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things; the false-proboscis-wearing Raymond Luxury Yacht; The Rev. Arthur Belling of St. Looney Up-The-Cream-Bun-and-Jam; Sir Kenneth Clark, defending his Oxford title in a boxing ring; Oscar Wilde competing with James MacNeil Whistler and George Bernard Shaw over bon mots; a gloomy Icelander hawking honey; Mr. Neutron ("the man who could catch H-Bombs in his teeth"); and, most famously, as the leads - King Arthur and Brian - in the Pythons' two best movies.
Outside of the group, Chapman's film and TV output - "Yellowbeard," "The Odd Job," "Jake's Journey" - was outshone by his 1980 memoir, "A Liar's Autobiography: Volume VI," which recounted his coming of age, his coming out, and his overcoming his addiction to alcohol. The book became the basis of a posthumous animated feature, incorporating the reading Chapman had done for his audiobook recording for the soundtrack.
Having survived alcoholism and participation in the Dangerous Sports Club, and serving as a spokesperson for gay rights, Chapman died of complications from throat and spinal cancer on October 4, 1989. He was only 48 years old, and would no longer be late for a Python writing session.
By David Morgan, 2014