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.”
Utterly dismayed to hear about Neil Innes. Right out of the blue...— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) December 30, 2019
A very sweet man, much too nice for his own good
Lovely writer and performer. When he worked with Python on our stage show, I listened every night to "How sweet to be an Idiot" on the tannoy
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.
If it's true that the great Neil Innes had sadly passed away, please let me raise a glass to the man. Forever a fan of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Allow me to share a favourite clip of them in action (with a bonkers Innes guitar solo too). RIP Neil. https://t.co/wojCBk7GPY— edgarwright (@edgarwright) December 30, 2019
RIP the quite brilliant Neil Innes. "That's nice, Max."— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) December 30, 2019
So sad to hear of the death of @NeilInnes – the Bonzos were everything to me when I was a teenager. I bought the LP of Tadpoles first: "Tackle the toons you tapped your tootsies to on Thames TV's Do Not Adjust Your Set". A great songwriter, great voice, great man.— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) December 30, 2019
V sad to hear Neil Innes, the brilliant comedian, musician, and Rutle, has died. Humming this today, having had it stuck in my head for approximately 40 years: https://t.co/tLQKs75WTS— Charlie Brooker (@charltonbrooker) December 30, 2019
Neil Innes has gone. As a Python-obsessed teen I saw him at Darlington Arts Centre & missed my bus home to catch his brilliance. I used to record ‘The Innes Book of Records’ on C-60s & marvel at his talent. I still hum ‘I like Cezanne, says Anne’. Sweet dreams, sweet idiot.— Mark Gatiss (@Markgatiss) December 30, 2019