Bill Kenwright dies aged 78: Everton chairman and legendary West End theatre impresario behind Blood Brothers, Joseph and Fame passes away days after returning home from surgery on cancerous liver tumour
Everton FC chairman and legendary theatre producer Bill Kenwright has died at the age of 78, his family announced today.
Kenwright had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his liver in August. Complications during surgery led to him spending a prolonged period in intensive care before he returned home two weeks ago.
He was one of the country’s leading theatre producers and helped direct Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar.
But the Scouser was perhaps best known for the long-running West End hit Blood Brothers, which ran for 24 years in the West End before playing for three years at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre.
Kenwright forged a love affair with Everton from an early age, inspired by his idol, the centre forward Dave Hickson. He had been on the board at Goodison Park since 1989 and was made deputy chairman after buying a 68 per cent majority share of the club from Peter Johnson in 1999.
He’d been wed to the actress Ms Seagrove since 1994, following a two-year marriage to interior designer Anouska Hempel. He is survived by one daughter from a previous relationship with stage and screen star Virginia Stride, as well as two grandchildren.
A statement released through his company today read: ‘Following a long battle with illness Bill passed away peacefully last night, surrounded by his family and loved ones.
‘Bill was driven by his passions and devoted his life to them; his deep love of theatre, film, music and his beloved Everton, and the families they created. He impacted the lives of thousands, whether that be through the launching of careers or his unending loyalty, generosity and unfaltering friendship and support.
Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, pictured with his long-term partner actress Jenny Seagrove, has died at the age of 78
Kenwright in 1978 with his ex wife, the New Zealand film actress Anouska Hempel
Kenwright was last pictured watching Everton playing Liverpool on February 13 this year
Everton announced the news of Kenwright’s dead in a tweet shared at 5pm today
‘In a multi-award-winning career spanning six decades, Bill produced over 500 West End, Broadway, UK touring and international theatre productions, films and music albums. His impact on the arts industry has been profound.
‘During his time as majority shareholder and Chairman of Everton FC, Bill led the Club through a period of unprecedented change in English football. We will remember him with huge love and admiration – the shows will of course go on, as he would have wished, and his towering legacy will continue.
‘A celebration of Bill’s life and career will be announced in due course. At this very difficult time we ask for privacy and respect for Bill’s family and friends.’
Born in Wavertree on September 4, 1945 – five months after VE Day – Kenwright enjoyed a breakthrough in acting as a teenager when he was cast in Granada TV’s ‘The Villains’, before appearing in several West End musicals.
He was cast of Coronation Street in 1968 as Gordon Clegg, but decided to leave to soap at the conclusion of his 12 month contract.
Instead, the up-and-coming star transitioned into theatre production with his company, Bill Kenwright Ltd, which became one of the most successful in the world.
As a director, Bill has been responsible for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita.
He also directed Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman’s Whistle Down the Wind, and was nominated for a London Theatre Critics’ Award for West Side Story at the Shaftesbury Theatre, and a Tony Award for Blood Brothers on Broadway.
Films produced by Kenwright’s company include Cheri, starring Michelle Pfeiffer; The Day After the Fair; Stepping Out; Don’t Go Breaking My Heart; Off the Rails; and Sundance Festival award winner Die Mommie Die; and The Purifiers.
Kenwright was awarded the CBE for his services to film and theatre in the 2001 New Years Honours List.
The director with Andrew Lloyd-Webber at a party following the press night for Whistle Down The Wind at the Hilton Green Park in 2006
Kenwright enjoyed a legendary career as a West End theatre producer after transitioning from acting, pictured attending the World Premiere of his company’s film Off the Rails
Kenwright playing Gordon Clegg on Coronation Street alongside Jennifer Moss as Lucille Hewitt
He had one daughter from a previous relationship with stage and screen star Virginia Stride (who he’s seen with in 1971), as well as two grandchildren
After making a name for himself in the theatre world, Kenwright was invited to join Everton’s board of directors in 1989.
He succeeded Sir Phillip Carter as Everton chairman in 2004.
A year later the Toffees secured a place in the Champions League qualifiers under the guidance of manager David Moyes.
He was persuaded to stay on in the role earlier this year by Farhad Moshiri, who Kenwright sold his stake to in 2016.
His stake eventually fell to 1.3 per cent back in 2018.
Kenwright had become an unpopular figure with large sections of the club’s supporters amid Everton’s struggles on the pitch.
He published an open letter to fan groups earlier this year, denying claims his health issues had impacted the running of the club.
Kenwright sold his majority stake in Everton to Farhad Moshiri in 2016 but remained chairman
The football executive sitting next to England coach Gareth Southgate at Goodison Park in May 2022
Kenwright been instrumental in the running of Everton, and is pictured announcing Roberto Martinez as the club’s manager in 2013
‘Sometimes it’s not easy but there are many worse off than me,’ he said.
‘You may well know that in April 2015, I was advised I had a chronic illness that would probably be with me for the duration.
‘This is, pretty inevitably, only the start of a journey where the issues usually increase. And they have. What you may also know is that most people find a spirit that will not give in and hopefully not be beaten.’
Everton had confirmed that up until his surgery in August, Kenwright had continued to carry out club duties.
This included working alongside Moshiri to facilitate the proposed takeover by 777 Partners and supporting Kevin Thelwell with the club’s summer transfer activity.
Tributes have poured in for the star, including from Everton rivals Liverpool FC, who tweeted: ‘Rest in peace, Bill Kenwright. The thoughts of everyone at Liverpool FC are with Bill’s family, friends and everyone at Everton.’
Stars from the world of acting also shared their sadness. Sir Ian McKellen said: ‘Like many grateful actors I am in debt to Bill Kenwright for employment. “Frank & Percy” at his The Other Place will be his last theatre production. And “The Critic” will be his last film.
‘We were young together, when he was in Coronation Street and I was dipping a toe into Shaftesbury Avenue.
‘Since then, I have admired the resilient way in which he encouraged theatre to thrive in London and in the regions whether it was yet another tour of that wonderful musical “Blood Brothers” or sponsoring the Peter Hall Company in the classics.
‘In private, Bill relished gossip and loved to reminisce. He seemed to have known everyone in the business and to care about them.
‘Yet every chat would veer round to his equal passion – Everton football. The city that gave us The Beatles and two major football teams, also bred a unique impresario.
‘Whether the West End lights will be turned off in his memory, certainly our business will be dimmer now he has gone.’
Actor Julian Clary added: ‘RIP Bill Kenwright. I’m forever grateful to him for giving me the chance to play the Emcee in Cabaret at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue in 2007. After the first night he said to me “You’re so brave…so brave!”‘
Jason Manford also paid tribute, writing: ‘Saddened to hear Bill Kenwright has died. Met up with him several times over the years as we attempted to work together so very sad that will now never happen. Was always funny and honest and with a deep love for theatre and football. Will be sadly missed.’
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