Jon English: A rock star life

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English shot to fame with his mesmerising performance in the lead role of Judas Iscariot in the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar

Popular and versatile entertainer Jon English – renowned for always living his life like a rock star – has died from surgery complications. He was 66.

He was born Jonathan James English in Hampstead, London, on 26 March 1949 and turned 12 on the ship going over when his family emigrated to Australia. In a career spanning several decades, English was extremely prolific, taking on a heavy schedule of singing, song writing, and acting.

English took early inspiration from his self-taught musician father, Sydney, who bought him his first guitar. While attending Cabramatta High School, English was taken to Sydney Stadium in 1964 to see the Beatles perform. When he was about 16, English scored his first gig when a school friend needed a guitarist. Halfway through the performance, English was called upon to do vocals and launched into a blistering rendition of 'Twist and Shout'. That said, English described his first band as "crap".

After dabbling with various bands, including the Sebastian Hardie Blues Band, English shot to fame with his mesmerising performance in the lead role of Judas Iscariot in the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Chosen from more than 2,000 applicants, English received rave reviews as he performed in more than 700 shows from 1972 to 1974.

While still performing in Superstar, English found the time to record his first solo album, 'Wine Dark Sea'. One of the stand out tracks was 'Handbags and Gladrags'.

His second solo album, "It's All A Game', was released in 1975, achieving moderate success. 'Hollywood Seven', the title track of English's third solo album, peaked at number 13 and cemented English's reputation as a powerful vocalist.

Further Australian top 20 singles followed. They included 'Turn The Page', 'Words Are Not Enough' and, perhaps his best known hit, 'Hot Town', released in 1979.

English's folky single 'Six Ribbons' was huge in Scandinavia, achieving a top four position in Sweden and topping the Norwegian charts.

English continued to hone his acting skills throughout the 1970s while pursing a successful musical career, appearing in various minor roles in the police dramas Matlock Police, Homicide and Chopper Squad. He also had a recurring role as a drug lord in Number 96.

English said:

"I was doing a lot of police shows in those days. I got to do them all. I was always a drug-crazed axe-murdering hippy."

In 1978, English won a Logie award for Best New Talent for his starring role in the Australian TV series Against The Wind, for which he also co-wrote and produced a successful soundtrack album.

During the 1980s, English was best known for his stellar performances in the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and HMS Pinafore. All three were broadcast on Australian television in the 1990s, winning English a new generation of fans. They also garnered English a number of Mo Awards for "Entertainer of the Year" and "Best Male Vocal Performer".

From 1990 to 1993, English did a star turn as the faded one-hit wonder Bobby Rivers in All Together Now, a popular Australian television series that also featured Rebecca Gibney. It had a successful run with more than 100 episodes.

In later years, English wrote various film and television scores and soundtracks. He also maintained a busy schedule of touring and performing. Just days before his death, when he was confined to a hospital bed and awaiting surgery, English sent a message to fans via social media saying he was 'itching' to get back to 'rocking out on stage'. The deterioration of his health was documented on his official Facebook page, where English sent regretful messages, apologising for having to miss scheduled performances.

After undergoing what was supposed to be routine surgery for an aortic aneurysm, English died on 9 March 2016, surrounded by family, including his four children Jessamin, Josephine, Jonnie and Julian, and his wife, Carmen.

Tributes immediately poured in.

Tim O’Connor, the CEO and Artistic Director of the Harvest Rain Theatre Company, said the entire company was “shocked and saddened” by his passing.

O’Connor said:

“He was a kind, funny and generous man, an extraordinary talent, a true legend in every sense of the word. He never forgot where he came from, and was genuine with everybody."

Nine entertainment editor Richard Wilkins said English "stole the show" during his varied career.

He continued,

“He was a big, tall guy and when he walked on stage, he owned it. He was a star, larger than life, with a big colourful personality.”

Australian musical theatre star Marina Prior said:

“Jon was such a brilliant comedian, a charismatic force on stage. We have lost an Australian icon."

Steve Jacobs, who appeared alongside English in All Together Now, said:

"He was such a talented performer and such a gentleman, an incredible actor, an incredible rock star. He lived his life like a rock star, he was larger than life, but just a beautiful soul."

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