Everton FC chairman and entertainment producer Bill Kenwright dies at 78 after cancer battle

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has died at the age of 78. Credit: PA Images

Bill Kenwright, Everton’s chairman, West End producer and Coronation Street actor, has died at the age of 78, the club has announced.

Everton Football Club say he passed away peacefully surrounded by his family and loved ones on Monday, 23 October, following his battle with cancer.

Born in Liverpool, he was one of the UK's most successful theatre producers and joined Everton's board in 1989.

The actor, film and West End producer had recently undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his liver at the beginning of October.

Although the operation had been deemed a success it resulted in Kenwright spending “a prolonged period in an intensive care unit”, an announcement from the club said at the time.

Wayne Rooney hugs Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright, 2013. Credit: PA Images

Kenwright was born near Wavertree and his passion for Everton FC started from a young age influenced by his childhood hero Dave Hickson, a centre forward for the club.

In a statement the club said: "Everton Football Club is in mourning following the death of Chairman Bill Kenwright CBE, who passed away peacefully last night aged 78, surrounded by his family and loved ones.

"Everton’s longest serving chairman for more than a century, Bill Kenwright led the Club through a period of unprecedented change in English football.

"A lifelong Evertonian, he became a board member on October 23, 1989, and then on Boxing Day 1999 his True Blue Holdings consortium acquired the Club. Initially vice-chairman, he succeeded his close friend Sir Philip Carter as Chair in 2004.

"In his 19 seasons as Chairman, the Club secured 12 top eight finishes, including a top four finish in 2005, a run to the 2009 FA Cup final and European qualification on 6 separate occasions.

"The club has lost a chairman, a leader, a friend, and an inspiration. The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Everton are with his partner Jenny Seagrove, his daughter Lucy Kenwright, grandchildren and everybody who knew and loved him."

His early years saw him acting as Gordon Clegg in Coronation Street, with his first appearance on the cobbles in 1968. He appeared on the soap until 2012.

Bill progressed from television to the theatre, founding Bill Kenwright Ltd in 1984, which has become a successful independent theatre and film production company.

West End hits like Blood Brothers and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat were amongst his big hits.

His life achievements include an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool's John Moore's University, an Honorary Professor of London's Thames Valley University and his influence in the entertainment industry.

Sir Ian McKellen, 84, who starred in 2023 film The Critic – co-produced by Kenwright, penned a tribute to the football chair on X, formerly Twitter.

He said: “Bill Kenwright (1945-2023) Like many grateful actors I am in debt to Bill Kenwright for employment.”

He added: “We were young together, when he was in Coronation Street (as Gordon Clegg) 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.”

Singer Antony Costa paid tribute to “friend and mentor”. In a post to X, formerly Twitter, Costa said: “Just heard the news my friend, and mentor and the person who gave me the chance to perform on stage Mr Bill Kenwright has passed away.

“You were one in a million Sir… we loved talking football R.I.P Bill xx”

The comedian and singer Jason Manford added to the tributes. He said: "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."

Former Everton forward Wayne Rooney, who broke through at Goodison Park as a 16-year-old, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: "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."

Tony Cottee, an FA Cup runner-up with Everton in 1989, wrote on X: "So sad to hear of the passing of Bill Kenwright. Everton have lost a great Evertonian and I have lost a friend... RIP Bill".

There was also a message from Jamie Carragher, who was a childhood Everton fan before his long association with Liverpool.

He wrote: "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."

Liverpool were among the many clubs to pay their respects, with the Anfield side writing on X: "Rest in peace, Bill Kenwright."

An X post from the Premier League's official account read: "Our sincere condolences go to Bill's family, friends, and everyone at Everton, at this sad time."

Meanwhile, Nicola Nuttall, the mother of Laura Nuttall who died of a brain cancer at 23, described Bill as a "real gentleman" who donated £50,000 for Laura to have treatment in Germany.

"No fuss, no publicity, just genuine kindness from a real gentleman and a true blue", Nicola said.

Julian Clary has said he will be “forever grateful” to the late Bill Kenwright for giving him the chance to play “the Emcee” in Cabaret.

In a post X, comedian and actor Clary wrote: “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!'”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham described Kenwright as “big hearted” and spoke about his reaction to the Hillsborough disaster where dozens were killed due to a crush at a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on April 15 1989.

Speaking outside Old Trafford, he said: “I saw the care he had for the Hillsborough families when they were going through everything that they went through.

“That was Bill Kenwright. Before people think about anything else, that was him, that was the man, just somebody of warmth, of generosity.”

British theatrical producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh called Kenwright “prolific” and “irresistible”.

In a statement seen by the PA news agency, Sir Cameron said: “The world of British theatre without Bill Kenwright seems impossible.”

He added: “Bill was fearless, prolific and irresistible – he couldn’t bear to see any theatre empty, so he’d conjure up a production almost overnight to fill it!

“His enthusiasm knew no bounds, employing over his long career tens of thousands of actors – occasionally, including himself – a tireless broadcaster, often also a director and above all, a champion of the people he believed in.

“And the theatre wasn’t even his day job – his real profession was running Everton!

“In my lifetime, there has never been anyone like Bill. He’s totally irreplaceable and we will miss him so.”

Bill was the chairman of Everton for more almost two decades. Credit: PA Images

Meanwhile, football clubs including Liverpool FC, Burnley and Arsenal have all offered their condolences to the Toffees for the loss of their chairman.

An online book of condolence has been opened by Everton Football Club.

In June this year, Everton owner Farhad Moshiri announced he had asked Kenwright to remain as chairman and help the club through a “period of transition”.

Kenwright had come under pressure from a section of fans who protested at how the club was being run.

It was announced last month that a deal to sell the club to American investment firm 777 Partners had been agreed.

The prospective new owners insisted last week that the takeover bid was still on track after it was reported they had failed to supply information to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and said the process was ongoing.

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