In the early 1970s, Ted Neeley was a 20-something rock ‘n’ roll drummer from Texas who never imagined he would be known for playing the Son of God. But 50 years later, his name is nearly synonymous with Jesus of Nazareth for fans of the 1973 film “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
In 1971, Neeley was cast on Broadway as the Jesus understudy in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary rock opera. Despite mixed reviews (Webber himself called the production vulgar), the propulsive energy of the electric guitar-driven soundtrack and the attention of religious protesters cemented the show as a cultural phenomenon. In 1973, Norman Jewison’s movie version starred Ted Neeley and earned him and two other cast members Golden Globe nominations.
Neeley has played the role on and off ever since.
In a recent call with Religion News Service, Neeley estimated he had sung the song “Gethsemane” — a climactic …