Sunday, November 10, 1996


Page: E03 Grand Forks ND Herald

Naomi Dunavan

I had a string of questions ready in my computer, but I wondered where else my conversation with Ted Neeley might drift as I anticipated his call.

It came promptly at 1:30 p.m. on a Monday, the time set by his publicist. But the chat wasn't to happen then.

The star of stage and screen was biding time. He was in the middle of another interview and was calling to ask if he could reschedule to an hour later.

"I get very long-winded about this," Ted said.

No problem. And I knew instantly by the sound of his soft, congenial voice, that I would thoroughly enjoy my interview with him later.

On the dot of 2:30 p.m., Ted called back. It was his nickel and at 3:30 p.m., neither of us could believe an hour had passed.

So, I thought you might like to know the personal side of Ted Neeley, who for 25 years has played Jesus of Nazareth in "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Maybe you saw the show Friday night in the Chester Fritz Auditorium.

First off, I'm convinced Ted was created for this role. He's a gentle, gentle man whether he's Jesus or not. Besides that, he's a rock 'n' roll drummer and a background vocalist who was raised a Southern Baptist in Ranger, Texas.

"Pretty much Mayberry RFD is the town I grew up in," Ted says. "It was all very sweet and supportive and loving. I'm a product of that environment. I so hope I'm able to pass that same feeling on to our children and all the children I meet."

Ted is a loving husband who says he is "very, very blessed. My wife is magnificent and so supportive and involved with community and school."

A ballet dancer, his wife grew up in Canada, danced with some of the great dancers of the world and was a dancer in the film "Jesus Christ Superstar." That's where Ted met her.

"We met in 1972 and married in 1981," he says. "We have not been apart since we met except for this tour."

He's a devoted father of a 12-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. One week out of six, his children, their homework and his wife join him on the road from the family's home in Texas.

"They are always with me on holidays," Ted says. "The good part is, we get to spend the entire summer traveling to wonderful cities. For me to witness the educational growth of our children is remarkable. And there's nothing more gorgeous than to be on the phone hearing Tessa and Zachariah say, 'I love you daddy.'"

Ted says he's an emotional man who cries watching commercials on TV. "I can't hold it in, and I'm comfortable enough to let it flow."

He's also an unusual person.

"I have no family problems. I have nothing horrible to blame anything on. I come from a very loving, nurturing foundation. Getting the opportunity to learn about faith and religion as a child was as much daily bread as having food. It wasn't forced upon me. It was my choice. I grew up in Texas, where faith and religion are a part of this life. I was in church as much as I was in school, and the experience of religion was much more personal."

When the opportunity to be in "Jesus Christ Superstar" presented itself, "it was a natural thing to pull upon," Ted says. "I didn't have to do research. This was so embellished my life to be kind and nurturing. I'm much more deeply influenced by the relationships I make now. The people I meet now are becoming friends through this show. We have a common bond that connects us immediately."

Ted fondly recalls his parents' guidance during his formative years.

"I remember my daddy and mommy talking to me and nurturing me. I always called my father 'daddy.' Now I know why. I truly believe that any man can be a father, but it takes somebody really special to be daddy."

Ted's father died before he could see Ted in the show. After the film came out, Ted watched it with his mother.

"My mom was everybody's favorite," Ted says. When she saw the movie, it disturbed her. She was watching her baby boy getting whipped."

But his mother wanted a photograph from the film and talked about a certain sequence she loved.

"It was a close-up of my face carrying the cross," Ted says. "She was so perceptive. We asked the editor to pull the frame, and we had it blown up and framed and mounted in the living room. It was positioned where the sun was always on it."

One day, a friend stopped over. "Oh my goodness, Mrs. Neeley," the friend said "Where did you get that magnificent picture of Jesus?"

Ted said his mother just smiled and replied, "that's my boy."

"My mom was very proud of what I got to do," Ted says. "And my dad felt I was very much as successful as that rock 'n' roll drummer."

Ted is grateful to be living in this time in history and he's grateful for what he's been allowed to do.

"We are just fortunate to be here," he says, "and our time is so limited."

To parents, he offers this thought. "When it comes to our children, if we're not telling them how much we love them, as often as we can, we're not living life as we ought to."

Dunavan is a longtime Herald staff writer.


For many years there was a basic rule in "Neeley Cyberspace" to never post pictures of Ted's kids on the web, but in recent years Ted has begun sharing past and present family pictures himself on his official Facebook page, so I wanted to "reshare" his post from a couple weeks back here, as it is a truly lovely family photo, and this article is about his family. Here is the Neeley Family on the Red Carpet at Rubicon Theatre's May 28, 2016 performance of Clarence Darrow:

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