Graham Chapman was one of the six members of the Monty Python comedy troupe. He was also the lead actor in their two narrative films, playing King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the title character in Monty Python's Life of Brian.
Chapman was educated at Melton Mowbray Grammar School and studied medicine at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he began writing comedy sketches with John Cleese, who was also a Cambridge student. Chapman and Cleese wrote professionally for the BBC during the 1960s, primarily for David Frost, but also for Marty Feldman.
In 1969 Chapman and Cleese joined Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and American artist Terry Gilliam for Monty Python's Flying Circus. Cleese and Chapman's classic Python sketches include “The Ministry of Silly Walks”, "Raymond Luxury Yacht", and “Dead Parrot”. These were largely straight roles, but in the Flying Circus, he had tended to specialise in characters closer to his own personality: outwardly calm, authoritative figures barely concealing a manic unpredictability.
Chapman died of a rare spine cancer. It was diagnosed in November 1988. By September 1989 the cancer was declared incurable. He filmed scenes for the 20th anniversary of Monty Python that month, but was taken ill again on 1 October 1989. He died in a Maidstone Hospice on the evening of 4 October 1989. Chapman's death occurred one day before the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Flying Circus; Terry Jones called it “the worst case of party-pooping in all history."
A memorial service was held for Graham Chapman on the evening of 6 December 1989. Cleese delivered the eulogy; after his initial remarks, which parodied the "Dead Parrot" sketch, he said of his former colleague: “…good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries!”, and then pointed out that Chapman would have been disappointed if Cleese passed on the opportunity to scandalise the audience.
After his death, speculation of a Python revival inevitably faded, with Idle saying, “we would only do a reunion if Chapman came back from the dead. So we're negotiating with his agent.”