Neil Innes, the comic songwriter who co-founded the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the 1960s before embarking on a celebrated career of musical satire, died Sunday night (December 29), the BBC reports. He was 75. A spokesperson for the Innes family told the BBC he had not been ill and his death was unexpected.
Born in the British county of Essex and raised in Germany, Innes formed the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band—later known as the Bonzo Dog Band—while studying at Goldsmiths College in London. Early tracks include “Death Cab for Cutie,” which inspired the band of that name, and the hit single “I’m the Urban Spaceman,” pseudonymously produced by Paul McCartney. The Beatles proved a source of lasting inspiration for Innes: After a run writing for and performing with Monty Python in the ’70s (with credits including Flying Circus, Holy Grail, and the whistling melody of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”), he debuted the John Lennon-esque character Ron Nasty, who fronted a Beatles spoof band called the Rutles.
In 2008, Monty Python’s John Cleese and Michael Palin, Aimee Mann, Matt Groening, and others contributed to a documentary on Innes titled The Seventh Python. He continued to tour in later life, sometimes with a new comic supergroup called the Idiot Bastard Band.
Palin told BBC Radio 4 Innes was “a great writer and he was eccentric and he was clever without being pretentious. And he was the warmest of people to be with, he was a most lovely friend.” Cleese, Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker, and director Edgar Wright were also among those to pay tribute.
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. His wife Yvonne and their three sons, Miles, Luke and Barney, and three grandchildren, Max, Issy and Zac, give thanks for his life, for his music and for the joy he gave us all.”