Django killed Jesus and Why I Love Ted Neeley

Upon the blood-spattered trail Django leaves as he tears his path through the South in Tarantino’s Django Unchained, lies strewn the carcasses of actors once heralded, now wasted before an audience that barely recognizes them. There are multiple that include Tom Savini (if you don’t know, known for his George Romero work and once groundbreaking special effects), Robert Carradine, and…well, Jesus…A.K.A. Ted Neeley.

I hadn’t even noticed the great Ted Neeley, the actor who portrayed (in my humble opinion) the greatest Jesus Christ EVAR in the 1973 theatrical version of Jesus Christ Superstar opposite the stellar Carl Anderson.

tedjesus

Neeley is most recognized for his role as Jesus, but was also successful in other theater productions such as Tommy and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band and minor television roles such as “Of Mice and Men” (the Robert Blake/Randy Quaid version) and one episode of “Starsky and Hutch”.

In Django, his role was so small he barely made an impression, playing one of the hillbilly band of brothers in the now infamous dog scene. His role consisted of at most three scenes where he was given a couple seconds total screen time and no lines, however, there may have been a grunt somewhere. However, in proper Tarantino style, he did of course meet a gloriously violent end at the hands of Django himself in the final orgiastic burst of violence that concludes the film.

I remain surprised at Tarantino’s need to cast stars such as these to be gloriously slaughtered without the luxury of a peep of dialogue. Did he initially have more focus on these characters, but had to sacrifice them to a bloated run time? The reason I point this out is that I didn’t even notice Tom Savini (my friend had to point him out to me) and had to be told Ted Neeley was in the film by my friend who whispered in my ear that Jesus was on the screen. These actors are barely a blip on the audience’s radar.

I can only imagine the want of an actor not having worked on the level of blockbuster for some time to be included in such a film production. Any face-time would be greatly appreciated within a film that promotes a much needed dialogue on barbarism and with the awards season upon us, is poised to remain in the public consciousness for some time. But, Tarantino’s want to cast these actors in roles where only few will recognize them remains a mystery to me.

But, I digress.

While his part was extremely limited, my thirst for Ted Neeley (Jesus) was heightened due this exposure, and because of this I decided to give a little time and appreciation to what was for many years my divine friend and drunken confidant: Ted Neeley.

As my gay friends know, there have been many a Jesus throughout the years cast in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Sebastian Bach of the band Skid Row was even cast for a short time, but his national tour was put to a premature end. Shocking. To be honest, I have only seen two other actors play Jesus, all of which were great, but could not touch the rock freakout scream that Ted could belt out (example forthcoming).

No words can describe the impact this role had on my formative years. I lived and breathed Neeley’s performance and still remain moved at the depth of his ability. Neeley’s performance was powerful not only because of the strength of his voice, but of the humanity he conveyed. He portrayed a character angered and frightened by the power bestowed upon him and in doing so with the subtlety only Neeley could bring, created a flawed, but beautiful vision of one of the most well-known figures in history.

To be most honest, I would like to apologize to my sister or anyone that I knew during the three years I was obsessed with this film. My drunken attempts to hit every note of this performance, normally between the hours of midnight to three a.m., were numerous and wildly unsuccessful. That in no way deterred me from trying. I offer you my heartfelt apology.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973):

 

And for those reasons, Ted Neeley will always be more than a mere blood stain on Django’s roadmap.

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8 thoughts on “Django killed Jesus and Why I Love Ted Neeley

  1. Carl Anderson, my uncle, played Judas opposite Ted. They were absolutely wonderful! I would have appreciated your attempt to reach the high notes of Ted and would have matched you trying to reach Carl’s! Blessings, Pamela Anderson

    • Thank you for your comment! Yes, Carl was fantastic and left us far too early. His performance of “Heaven on Their Minds” is unmatched and remains one of my all-time faves. Thanks for stopping by!!

    • Pamela hi..I’m Alejandro from Chile… you’re uncle…. was an amazing singer, his voice is a bless even now… I really want to catch you in facebook… find me searching for Johan Sebastian Mastropiero …. or email me : alejandrosg@live.cl. CARL WILL LIVE FOREVER IN US

  2. We just had the honor of seeing Ted Neeley perform live in Cleveland with his Little Big Band. He was AMAZING! He sang the song (Gethsemene) in your clip and reached EVERY note!!!!! He was personable and fun. It was an annointed night! He also sang from Hair and Sgt. Pepper. My favorite song from Jesus Christ Superstar was Carl’s opening. He was so talented! I just ordered one of Carl’s cd’s. Ted’s new songs are interesting but he sang them even better live. Two of the best voices and performances of my life thus far!

  3. I have known Teddy for a long time (and Carl, too – I am so sad we lost him)..My boyfriend was on the National Tour of JCS with Teddy and my best friend’s husband, Larry Friedman is Teddy’s long time Jesus understudy, so I was on the road with them all alot. A few years ago, I worked on a show called “Rasputin” with Teddy playing “Rasputin” (I was his prostitute) and it was a blast. Sadly, we were not able to get the show off the ground, but maybe in the future. Here is a link to Rasputin. If you love Teddy’s work, you will really dig Rasputin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLDZ5Pv1M2k (ENJOY!)

  4. I had the great privilege of performing with Teddie and Carl as Caiaphas on the ’95 JCS tour as well as the role of Dr. Botkin in the Rasputin workshop. It’s great to see Teddie in something so different from the guy I know in real life. Working with him and spending time on the road with him was truly a life changing experience.

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