7 Surprising things you didn’t know about John Cleese

Anna Walker 

Here are seven of the most surprising facts about that tall Python with the silly walk…the legendary John Cleese.

1. He has a breed of lemur named after him

Cleese feeds a lemur

Swiss researchers named a newly discovered breed of lemur after the comedian back in 2005 as a thank you for his work highlighting the plight of the animal, which are the most endangered primate in the world. The fluffy Avahi Cleesei was discovered in Western Madagascar and weighs less than a kilo.


2. He's Also a cat man

Barely five minutes after meeting John Cleese for our June podcast interview, he whipped his phone from his pocket and eagerly showed off a portrait he’d recently had painted of his cats. Cleese owns three Maine Coons, the largest domestic breed of cat.

He managed to grab international attention for his massive moggies when he insulted Taylor Swift’s cats while appearing on the Graham Norton Show. He asked when Swift's kitty, Olivia Benson ‘had the accident’.


3. He was very nearly John Cheese

Cleese with his father
With Father Cheese. Image source: So Anyway…, Penguin Random House

Cleese’s family surname was originally Cheese, but his grandfather changed it upon joining the military to avoid being picked on. In his autobiography So, Anyway… he recalls his first ever public performance on the stairs up to the school nurse’s room aged eight and five sixths, where a pack of jeering nine year olds were chanting ‘Chee-eese! Chee-eese!’ in his general direction.


"How had I managed to attract so much attention? What had I done to provoke this aggression? And…how on earth did they know that my family surname had once been Cheese?"


4. In 2005 he placed a portion of his colon up for auction on his website

John Cleese

Following surgery for diverticulitis, Cleese had a portion of his colon removed. He then placed the offending body part up for auction on his website, claiming he planned to split the proceeds evenly between himself and his surgeon. Gross!


5. He was born in Weston Super Mare


And what’s more, he actually remembers it being bombed during the Second World War! Cleese’s father claimed that the bombing Weston Super Mare was undeniable proof that deep down the Germans really did have a sense of humour. Cleese expressed his own disbelief by claiming that “there was nothing in Weston that would have been worth more than the bomb!”


6. He calls his current wife “fish”

Cleese and Fish

This is apparently a compliment, because she’s “the most beautiful swimmer I’ve ever seen”. Cleese claims to have “finally found true love” with his current wife Jennifer Wade, who makes him “enormously happy”.

According to an interview with The Telegraph, he now defines happiness as “a fish and three cats”.


7. Piers Morgan Is His Arch Nemesis

Much to his amusement, Cleese has most recently seen media attention for his battle of the (t)wits with Piers Morgan, who he apparently got offended when Cleese failed to recognise him in a restaurant.

Screengrab Cleese

You can listen to our interview with John Cleese with the latest Reader's Digest podcast.

There's more from John Cleese over at the Reader's Digest Shop.

Listen to John Cleese discuss life and his autobiography So, Anyway...