Ian McKellen Joins Theater World Tributes to Producer Bill Kenwright: ‘Our Business Will Be Dimmer’

Kenwright, a longtime theater promoter also known for appearing on British soap “Coronation Street” and serving as Everton Football Club chairman, was 78

Bill Kenwright (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Bill Kenwright (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Actors and theater industry notables are submitting tributes to celebrate the life of longtime theater and film producer William “Bill” Kenwright, who died Monday following surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his liver back in August.

Kenwright is best known as one of the longest standing theater, TV and film producers, including being the force behind long-running West End musical “Blood Brothers.” He began as an actor, appearing in British soap opera “Coronation Street.” On top of his work in theater, he also served as a BBC Radio 2 presenter and as chairman of the Everton Football Club for nearly two decades.

“Like many grateful actors I am in debt to Bill Kenwright for employment,” “Lord of the Rings” star and theater legend Sir Ian McKellen shared on X (formerly Twitter). “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.”

“In private, Bill relished gossip and loved to reminisce,” McKellen added. “He seemed to have known everyone in the business and to care about them. Yet every chat would vere 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,” McKellen concluded.

McKellen is currently starring in the Kenwright-produced “Frank & Percy.”

James Dreyfus (“The Thin Blue Line”) also chimed in online, initially writing, “Thank you, Bill, for everything you did for me. For standing by me, for taking chance after chance even when I pushed my luck. I’m going to miss you SO much. Thanks for all the fun, the laughs, the drinks, the support.”

“Leaving aside his genuine care, his friendliness, his generosity, geniality, & enthusiasm, his LOYALTY was his most outstanding quality. And he NEVER wavered. A rare species of bird just got a little rarer,” Dreyfus later added. “When you find a mentor, someone who will stand with you, despite all your faults & misgivings, just remember, you’re lucky indeed.”

Actor, comedian and host Jason Manford also showered Kenwright with praises, saying the producer would be “sadly missed” and describing him as “always funny and honest with a deep love for theatre and football.”

Playwright Willy Russell joined the tributes, writing, “I’m shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Bill Kenwright,” adding, “Bill’s commitment to his twin passions of theatre and Everton FC was total and unstinting, and his loyalty and devotion to ‘Blood Brothers’ was unwavering from the first time he came to see it. RIP Bill.”

Others who shared their love for Kenwright include writer and actor Rob Madge and actor Michael Crawford.

Born on Sept. 4, 1945 in Liverpool, Mereyside, England, Kenwright was cast in Granda TV’s “The Villains” at the age of 18 before he made the jump to star in West End musicals. At the end of his 12-month acting contract for “Coronation Street,” he pivoted to a career in theater production. His film resume includes “Cheri” starring Michele Pfeiffer, “The Day After the Fair” and the Sundance Film Festival award-winning “Die Mommy Die.”

While Kenwright’s tumor removal was successful, Kenwright suffered complications that sent him into an extended stay in the ICU, according to Everton FC, before he died on Monday.

Kenwright is survived by one daughter from a previous relationship with British actress Virginia Stride, in addition to two grandchildren.

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