John Cleese has said he was “utterly dismayed” to hear of the death of Monty Python collaborator and Rutles singer Neil Innes.
His family said in a statement that he “died of natural causes quickly without warning” aged 75 on Sunday night.
Innes wrote music for Monty Python’s albums including Monty Python’s Previous Record and The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief.
He also performed and penned songs and sketches for the Pythons’ final TV series in 1974 after Cleese temporarily left.
Cleese posted on Twitter: “Utterly dismayed to hear about Neil Innes.
“Right out of the blue… A very sweet man, much too nice for his own good.
“Lovely writer and performer.”
The Monty Python star went on: “When he worked with Python on our stage show, I listened every night to “How sweet to be an Idiot” on the tannoy.
Innes also wrote songs for Monty Python And The Holy Grail, appeared in Life Of Brian and toured the UK and Canada with the group.
He was one of only two non-Pythons to be credited as a writer for the TV series, alongside Douglas Adams.
He later joined Eric Idle on the sketch show Rutland Weekend Television, about a fictional low-budget regional TV station. This show spawned the band The Rutles, a spoof of The Beatles, in which Innes played Ron Nasty, who was based on John Lennon.
He was also a member of the band The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, whose song I’m The Urban Spaceman won him an Ivor Novello award.
Innes became a fixture in children’s entertainment in the 1980s when he voiced The Raggy Dolls and he also composed music for the show, as well as Puddle Lane, The Riddles and Tumbledown Farm.
Other stars who paid tribute included actor and writer Mark Gatiss, who wrote on Twitter: “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.”
Comedian Diane Morgan added: “Fairwell Neil Innes. One of the nicest people I’ve ever met and a towering talent.”
Writer and director Edgar Wright tweeted that he was “forever a fan” of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.
A statement released on behalf of Innes’ family said: “It is with deep sorrow and great sadness that we have to announce the death of Neil James Innes on December 29 2019.
“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.”