Sat. Jun 15th, 2024
Bill Kenwright became Everton chairman in 2004

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, an acclaimed West End theatre and film producer, has died at the age of 78.

Kenwright had surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his liver eight weeks ago.

He had been on the board at Everton since 1989, taking over as chairman at Goodison Park in 2004.

The Liverpudlian was also one of the UK’s most successful theatre producers and played Gordon Clegg in Coronation Street between 1968 and 2012.

Kenwright was awarded a CBE for his services to film and theatre in the 2001 New Years Honours List.

Everton said it was “in mourning” following the death of the club’s longest-serving chairman for more than a century.

“The club has lost a chairman, a leader, a friend, and an inspiration,” Everton added.

On 12 October, the Premier League club said Kenwright had a cancerous tumour removed from his liver six weeks before.

Everton said the operation was “completely successful”, but complications meant Kenwright required a “prolonged period in an intensive care unit”.

Announcing his death on Tuesday, Kenwright’s family said he “passed away peacefully” on Monday 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,” a family statement read.

“He impacted the lives of thousands, whether that be through the launching of careers or his unending loyalty, generosity and unfaltering friendship and support.”

In a multiple award-winning career spanning six decades, Kenwright produced more than 500 West End, Broadway, UK touring and international theatre productions, films and music albums.

“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,” his family added.

Leading Everton for almost two decades

Kenwright spent 19 seasons as Everton chairman, overseeing 12 finishes inside the Premier League top eight, including fourth place in 2005, while the Merseyside club were also FA Cup finalists in 2009.

Everton said he had led the club through “a period of unprecedented change in English football”.

In February 2016, Kenwright sold a 49.9% stake in the club to Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri, who increased his shares to 94% in January 2022.

But with the club fighting against relegation last season, an Everton fans’ group called for Kenwright to be sacked and said it had “no confidence” in him as chairman.

Kenwright and the rest of the board of directors were unable to attend home games last season from January after what the club described as “threatening correspondence” was received before a game against Southampton.

Chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale, chief finance and strategy officer Grant Ingles and non-executive director Graeme Sharp have all since left their boardroom roles, but Kenwright remained in his post as chairman until his death.

In September, owner Moshiri agreed to sell his 94% stake to American investment fund 777 Partners.

The club said Kenwright had “worked hard” alongside Moshiri “right up until the day” of his liver operation to help facilitate the proposed takeover.

Moshiri said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of his “great friend”.

“Bill was a force of nature and he certainly changed my life nearly 10 years ago when he first spoke to me about getting involved with the club he adored,” said Moshiri.

“He told me about this incredible club, a club that not only has history and heritage but was also a beating heart of our community and for that I will always be grateful.

“He was a special soul, a man successful in so many different walks of life. We will miss him but never forget him.”

From the cobbles to the director’s box

Kenwright started his career as an actor and landed his breakthrough role in ITV soap opera Coronation Street in 1968 as Gordon, the son of long-serving Rovers Return barmaid Betty.

He left Weatherfield the following year, but appeared back on screen with occasional visits over the subsequent decades.

Kenwright also began putting on plays in order to give himself roles and discovered he had an aptitude for pulling the strings behind the scenes.

He found big success by staging new productions of two musicals – Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers and Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – and making them long-running touring hits.

He has also staged productions of The Shawshank Redemption, The Exorcist, Cabaret, Evita, Saturday Night Fever and The Sound of Music.

Among his current shows, Sir Ian McKellen is starring in Frank and Percy in London, while Twelve Angry Men, Calendar Girls The Musical, Heathers The Musical and Blood Brothers are all on tour.

Dame Judi Dench, Woody Harrelson, Billie Piper, Rob Lowe and Felicity Kendal have also starred in his productions.

Rooney leads tributes to a ‘big inspiration’

Wayne Rooney, former Everton and England forward: “Devastated to hear the sad news about Bill Kenwright. Known Bill since I was young and he’s had a huge impact on me as a person and my career. Great man and a big inspiration. Thoughts are with all Bill’s family and friends.”

Jamie Carragher, ex-Liverpool and England defender: “Really sad news this. A huge Evertonian who served and loved his club to bits. I’ll never forget his and Everton’s support every year around the Hillsborough memorial. RIP Bill.”

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester and Everton fan: “It does feel like the end of an era, Bill was a big-hearted person. Such generosity and backed so many people that needed help, perhaps people did not see that in the media.

“He had a deep love for his club and the city he was from, it is an emotional night.”

Actor Sir Ian McKellen: “Like many grateful actors I am in debt to Bill Kenwright for employment. 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.”

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