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Published: 30 July 2009

Lee Rhodes: ‘born to play the role of Jesus’
From West End star to a tragic death on Heath

ACTOR who topped bill in Jesus Christ Superstar found hanged
A WEST End musical actor who once starred as the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar was found dead on Hampstead Heath, an inquest has heard.

Tributes have been paid to Lee Rhodes, who lived in Greencroft Gardens, West Hampstead.
His body was found by a dog walker in bushes near Whitestone Pond in May.
His friend and theatreland impresario Kevin Wallace knew Mr Rhodes from his time with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Sir Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar show in the late 1990s.
He recalled his memorable stage presence. “It was as if he was born to play the role of Jesus. He had an extraordinary quality onstage as an actor and a most exceptional voice,” said Mr Wallace, who recently staged the Lord of the Rings production at Drury Lane Theatre. “It was a significant production for us all.”
He added that the 38-year-old actor didn’t just play Jesus but really “became the role” in a “unique” transformation onstage.
St Pancras coroner Sean McGovern found that Mr Rhodes had taken his life by hanging. He said Mr Rhodes had been “troubled about a number of things”.
His wife Irene fondly recalled her husband’s acting and writing talent, describing him as “brilliant and funny”. She described him as someone who cared about others and the world, recalling how he looked up ways to save polar bears.
Mr Rhodes’ father Bert said: “He was a lovely human being, perhaps too good for this world.
“He was such a caring person and everyone that met him wanted to be his friend.”
Although she was not present at the inquest, Mrs Rhodes has since questioned the care her husband received following an overdose he took at the start of May. He was seen by the Royal Free Hospital’s mental health crisis team and then 12 days later by a community psychiatrist.
Dr Niall Boyce, at the Hoo clinic in Belsize Park, part of Camden’s community mental health team, found Mr Rhodes was suffering from a “moderate depress­­ive ­disorder with anxiety symptoms” despite having a stable and loving home life and a good circle of friends.
He told the inquest that during Mr Rhodes’ time playing Jesus Christ – when he was 24 – he had seen a therapist and described feelings of guilt associated with “over-identification” with the role.
“Prior to the events of May 2009, the only time he had seen a psychiatrist was for a brief period of Jungian therapy,” Dr Boyce said.
“He was appearing in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and found that he over-identified with the lead role he was playing. He described feelings of guilt he experienced at the time, that he could not help and heal on the street in the way the character he was playing could.”
Mrs Rhodes said: “I believe he was given the wrong medication and the wrong diagnosis. I would like people to understand why he ended up taking his life. The medication was trial and error and he was never properly monitored.”
Concern that he was suffering from lung cancer – which post-mortem findings proved to be incorrect – also weighed down on him, she said.
Dr Boyce said Mr Rhodes, who was also under the care of his GP, insisted he did not have suicidal thoughts.
Both Mr Rhodes’ wife and father plan to hold memorial events and hope to raise awareness about depression in the acting industry.

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