Tony Hendra, best known as a humorist, has died at 79 years old. The cause of death has been announced as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was first diagnosed back in 2019.
Hendra was born on July 10th, 1941 in Hertfordshire, England. He began his performing career while attending Cambridge University. He performed alongside Tim Brooke-Taylor and future members of Monty Python, John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Hendra also became friends with Nick Ullett, who became his performing partner.
At the urging of comedian Jackie Mason, in 1964, Hendra and Ullett made the big leap to the U.S. to give their act a try here. Their act has been classified as being in the same vein as them-British political satire staples That Was The Week That Was and Beyond The Fringe. Here, they opened for Lenny Bruce at the Café Au Go Go, played clubs all throughout the country such as The Hungry i in San Francisco and Mister Kelly’s in Chicago, and made numerous appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and Merv Griffin. They even released an album, titled The Art Of.
After dissolving the act in 1969, followed by a brief stint in Hollywood working as a writer on television shows, Hendra was a part of the inaugural staff of the famed National Lampoon magazine, founded by Doug Kenney and Henry Beard. In 1971, he became managing editor of the magazine. Along with fellow writer Michael O’Donoghue, Hendra helped the brand launch beyond the magazine with their first record Radio Dinner. In 1973, he created the off broadway show National Lampoon’s Lemmings that featured Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Christopher Guest, Rhonda Coullet, and Alice Playten. The play, which was a Woodstock sendup, was a hit.
Some of Hendra’s other credits include co-creating and producing the cult British satire series Spitting Image, writing The Great White Hype starring Samuel L. Jackson, and appearances in The Cosby Show, Law and Order Criminal Intent, Miami Vice, and a co-starring role as band manager Ian Faith in This Is Spinal Tap. He also wrote and co-wrote 14 books over the course of his long career, including serving as an editor of George Carlin’s memoir Last Words in 2009.
In 2004, just after the release of his memoir Father Joe, his daughter Jessica submitted an op-Ed to The New York Times stating that her father failed to mention sexually abusing her as a child in his book. While the Times didn’t publish the piece, it assigned reporter N. R. Kleinfield to investigate the accusations, who wound up publishing his own piece of his findings. Tony Hendra later went on record to deny all allegations. “I can only just categorically deny this,” Hendra stated. “It’s not a new allegation. It’s simply not true, I’m afraid.”
Hendra is survived by his second wife Carla, whom he had been married to since 1986 and five children.
Tony Hendra who played Spinal Tap’s manager, Ian, has sadly passed away. A brilliant satirist who when learning that the band’s Boston gig had been canceled, told them not to worry that Boston wasn’t a big college town. R.I.P.
— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) March 5, 2021
Before I did “Full House” I did a show on CBS- “The Morning Program.” My only writer was Tony Hendra. We had such a good time trying to get funny subversive stuff on the air. I got fired 5 months later- but it was so fun.
Rest In Peace Tony, my friend.
— bob saget (@bobsaget) March 6, 2021
My old friend Tony Hendra died yesterday
We were in the 1962 Footlights Revue together, along with Graham Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor
We were pals in New York in the 60s and 70s, and then lost touch, but we reconnected recently
My heart goes out to his wonderful wife Carla
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) March 6, 2021
I just found out we lost the brilliant Tony Hendra yesterday. Not only was he in Spinal Tap, but he was a satirical genius. He authored “Going too Far,” and helped edit my dad’s sortabiography “Last Words.” RIP Tony.
— Kelly Carlin (@kelly_carlin) March 6, 2021
A couple of years ago, I moderated a Lenny Bruce panel with @JohnFugelsang and Tony Hendra. Tony and Nick Ullett actually opened for Lenny at the Cafe Au Go Go when he got busted. Tony’s work with the National Lampoon and in Spinal Tap will live forever. Sad that he couldn’t. pic.twitter.com/YKqjesmKON
— Dan Pasternack (@DanPasternack) March 6, 2021