Innes, who had continued to perform live until recently, died Sunday night of natural causes; his wife Yvonne told The New York Times the comedian suffered a heart attack. In addition to his wife, he is survived by three sons and three grandchildren.
“It is with deep sorrow and great sadness that we have to announce the death of Neil James Innes on December 29, 2019,” Innes’ family said 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.”
Born in 1944, Innes began his musical career playing piano and guitar for the eccentric group the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in the 1960s and penned their sole hit song, “I’m the Urban Spaceman.” He went on to work closely with Monty Python throughout the 1970s, coming to be considered an honorary member of the six-man troupe. Innes contributed music to the Pythons’ TV series, albums, stage shows, and films (including the original songs in Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and also wrote and performed in sketches with the group.
Innes later co-created the Rutles with Python member Eric Idle. The so-called “Prefab Four” first appeared on British television, going on to tour and release multiple albums, as well as the mockumentary film All You Need Is Cash. Innes played John Lennon spoof “Ron Nasty” in addition to penning the band’s songs. (Incidentally, Innes had earlier appeared in the Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour, and Paul McCartney produced “I’m the Urban Spaceman” under an alias.)
Many celebrities posted tributes to Innes on social media, including former Monty Python member John Cleese, who wrote, “Utterly dismayed to hear about Neil Innes… A very sweet man, much too nice for his own good. Lovely writer and performer.”
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Other tributes included those of director Edgar Wright and actor Stephen Fry, who both highlighted Innes’ work with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and Harry Shearer, no stranger to parodic music groups himself as a former member of comedy rock band Spinal Tap.
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