His performances with the comedy troupe Monty Python are legendary. As a singing lumberjack, as a seller of a dead parrot or as Pontius Pilate with a speech impediment in the classic film "Brian's Life", Michael Palin made millions of people laugh. As a travel reporter, he tried to break down prejudices about other countries with his books and television programs. In the future, the jack-of-all-trades, who will be 80 on May 5, could take a step back from his job.
"Into Iraq" is the name of Palin's latest book and a TV documentary series, for which he embarked on a journey from the source of the Tigris in southeastern Turkey through Iraq and to the Persian Gulf. "Travelling is about discovering something you didn't know before," Palin said before the start of the series, "broadening your horizons and, in a way, looking behind the headlines." Among the many countries he has visited are Cuba, Myanmar, Pakistan and North Korea.
He had wanderlust since he was a child
Michael Palin, who was born in Sheffield in 1943, had a fascination for distant, foreign countries and curiosity as a child. "I was born with it," he said in an interview with the Telegraph. "I was very curious from an early age, looking at National Geographic magazines and atlases. I'm still amazed that today I can visit these places, which as a schoolboy in Sheffield I might have thought were strange and exciting and exotic, but... would have kept out of reach."
As a child, he also discovered his passion for theater. At school he took part in performances from an early age. He was particularly fond of comedy and performed skits for family and friends. After studying at Brasenose College, Oxford, he joined theater and comedy groups and met future Monty Python collaborator Terry Jones. The two worked for some time as writers for various BBC programmes.
Classic comedy starring Monty Python
Eventually, working for the BBC also brought her together with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam. After filming the TV series "How to Really Annoy People" - a Monty Python forerunner - with Cleese and Chapman, Palin and Co. really took off in 1969 with "Monty Python's Flying Circus". Ahead of its time and not an instant hit, the wacky comedy series soon achieved cult status and spawned several feature films, including comedy classics like 'The Knights of the Coconut' (1975) and 'The Life of Brian' (1979) . In 2014, the comedians were on stage together for a few live shows for the last time.
Palin also worked several times on their projects with his Python colleagues. He starred in 'Time Bandits' and 'Brazil' directed by Terry Gilliam. His most famous film is probably "A Fish Called Wanda" (directed by Charles Crichton), in which John Cleese also plays alongside Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline. Palin received a Bafta award for his supporting role. His last feature film to date was The Death of Stalin in 2017.
Palin's career as a travel reporter began rather accidentally in the 1980s when he was featured on the BBC series Great Railway Journeys Of The World. Several different travel programs followed, including the Jules Verne novel-based Around the World in 80 Days with Michael Palin, in which Palin made it around the world in the same amount of time without using an airplane.
At the same time, the passionate world explorer wrote books about his experiences. He also wrote several novels, children's books and his autobiography, and published a four-part diary series that also covered the time with Monty Python in detail. Critics praised Palin for his elegant, intelligent, yet approachable style.
On the other hand, Michael Palin's adventurous trips aroused not only enthusiasm but also concern in his family. "My wife actually really likes it when I do these long trips," Palin joked, "but Iraq, no. She didn't want me to go to Iraq, nor to North Korea."
Mourning for his beloved wife Helen
Michael Palin was married to TV producer Helen Gibbins for 57 years. When she died just days before Palin's 80th birthday, he was deeply shocked. "Her calm, wise judgment informed all my decisions, and her humor and practical sense have been at the center of our life together," he wrote on his website. The marriage produced three children. Palin also has four grandchildren. Grandpa Michael has had to deal with a few health problems himself in recent years and had to undergo heart surgery. That reminded him "that my body is not indestructible," he wrote on his blog.
Palin revealed to the "Mirror" that the trip to Iraq was perhaps his last great adventure. "People ask me where I'm going next? I say: to the pharmacy," he joked. "I consider myself extremely fortunate and grateful to have been able to travel so much over the past 35 years. There have been good times, interesting times, exciting times and adventures. But at some point you have to be careful about what you do next might." However, he did not want to completely rule out another trip.
Michael Palin has already written his next book. In Great-Uncle Harry: A Tale Of War And Empire, Palin delves into a chapter in his family history. His great-uncle Harry died in World War I. "He died young. His life ended when he was my age when I was filming The Knights of the Coconut," says Palin. The book is due out in September.