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Comedy great Eric Idle returns to The Graham Norton Show for this week's season premiere, which airs Friday at 11pm EST on BBC America. To whet your appetite, we're making him our British Icon of the Week and celebrating 10 things we admire (or just find interesting) about him.
1. He was a member of the iconic Monty Python comedy troupe.
It's no exaggeration to say the six-piece (Idle, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) changed the comedy game in the '60s and '70s. Their style of surreal, subversive, and sometimes brilliantly silly humor has been super-influential ever since. To this day, their BBC sketch series Monty Python's Flying Circus and hit movies including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python's Life of Brian are regarded as classics.
Idle wrote and performed his signature song, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," for Life of Brian.
2. He was also a founding member of The Rutles.
The Rutles, an affectionate parody of The Beatles, were created by Idle and Neil Innes in 1975 for a one-off comedy sketch. The joke went down so well that this fictional band evolved into a real band who released two albums and toured regularly. Idle wrote and co-directed their popular 1978 mockumentary film All You Need Is Cash.
3. He created the smash hit musical Spamalot.
Idle wrote the music and lyrics for this comedy musical based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As Playbill reports, the original Broadway production was named Best Musical at the 2005 Tony Awards and ran for more than 1,500 performances, playing to around two million people. And in case you're wondering, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" features in the show's second act.
4. He performed at the opening ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Representing the Monty Python crew, Idle sang – what else? – "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." You can relive his joyous performance over on YouTube.
5. He also wrote and performed the theme tune to classic British sitcom One Foot in the Grave.
The show and song were so popular that Idle's "One Foot in the Grave" was even released as a single. You can check out the video below.
6. He starred in the classic British film Nuns on the Run.
Released in 1990, it centers on two bank robbers (Idle and Harry Potter's Robbie Coltrane) who disguise themselves as nuns in order to evade arrest. It's a bit like a British version of Sister Act, albeit with less singing.
7. He has set up his own cancer fund.
Idle has recently revealed that in 2019 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a strain of the disease with an especially low survival rate. Having been given the all-clear, he now wants to encourage people to be hyper-vigilant about the disease through his Bright Side Fund.
"That’s why I came out about it. I wanted to say: ‘Look, I was very lucky and I survived. And so can you,'" Idle told The Guardian this week. "I’ve heard from so many people how much that meant to them. And that chokes me up. That makes me cry.”
8. He's been a guest star on The Simpsons.
Idle pops up in four episodes as Declan Desmond, a rather unusual British documentary maker.
9. He was firm friends with fellow comedy great Robin Williams.
Idle even wrote a tribute song for Williams' funeral in 2014. “He was just a great mate. I loved him," Idle told The Guardian. "We’d go on holidays together. I never expected to out-survive him. I couldn’t believe it when I heard he’d died."
10. And finally, he doesn't take himself too seriously.
Idle competed on the latest series of The Masked Singer as Hedgehog, singing "Love Me Do" by The Beatles. He talks about why he chose to perform this song during his appearance on The Graham Norton Show, which airs Friday on BBC America.
Do you have a favorite side of Eric Idle?