- Family name was originally Cheese but his father changed it in 1915 to Cleese upon joining the Army.
- Taught biology for two years at a preparatory school before attending Cambridge to study law.
- Performed with the Cambridge Footlights comedy group where he met future Monty Python members Graham Chapman and Eric Idle.
- Wrote and performed in the comedy revue Cambridge Circus, which played off-Broadway in New York.
- Professional writing career began with The Dick Emery Show in 1963; later wrote for the satirical sketch show The Frost Report, which also featured Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
- Cofounded Monty Python's Flying Circus in 1969; cowrote and appeared in the group's BBC series and their films, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian.
- Costarred and cowrote the sitcom Fawlty Towers.
- Earned a 1988 Oscar nomination for writing A Fish Called Wanda.
- Wrote several books, including Families and How to Survive Them.
- Appeared as Q in two James Bond movies; was Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter films.
- Has worked to save endangered lemurs and had a new species of lemur named for him.
- Served as a professor of comedy at Cornell University in New York.
- 1998, Emmy — Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Nominee
- 1989, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy: Nominee
- 1987, Emmy — Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series: Winner
- 2004, Emmy — Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Nominee
- 2002, Emmy — Outstanding Non-Fiction Special (Informational): Nominee
- 1988, Oscar — Best Writing (Original Screenplay): Nominee
- 1988, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Actor in a Leading Role: Winner
- 1988, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Original Screenplay: Nominee
- Alyce Faye Eichelberger — Ex-wife
- Connie Booth — Ex-wife
- Cynthia Cleese — Daughter
- Muriel Cleese — Mother
- Barbara Trentham — Ex-wife
- Reginald Cleese — Father
- Camilla Cleese — Daughter
- Jennifer Wade — Wife
- University of Cambridge, Downing College, Cambridge, England (1963)
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