Ted Neeley was born on September 20, 1943 in the US state of Texas in a religious family. In his younger years Ted was a drummer in several rock bands and it’s by chance that he ended up in the world of film and theatre, when he landed a part in the musical Hair, which was directed by the artistic director of the Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Neeley initially auditioned for the role of Judas. “After I had sung my song, the producer was enthusiastic and hugged me. I thought, "Yes, I got the part!" But he said: "I want you to come back tomorrow. We want you to play 'the other guy'." Neeley was offered the understudy for the title role in the Broadway version of Jesus Christ Superstar and later, in Los Angeles, he was cast in the title role.
For the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is a made into a film, Ted Neeley is again cast for the role of Jesus. The film is recorded entirely on location in Israel in 1972 and during the filming Ted meets one of the dancers: Leeyan Granger, who becomes his wife. The film is a huge success and receives two Golden Globe nominations.
After the success of Jesus Christ Superstar Neeley can be seen in the musical The Who's Tommy and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Neeley records a solo album and as an actor is seen in numerous films and television series. Occasionally he combines his talents, like when he composes the music, and plays in, Robert Altman's film A Perfect Couple (1979). The versatile Neeley is also a singer, songwriter, vocal arranger and producer for world-renowned artists such as Tina Turner, Ray Charles and Robin Williams.
Ted Neeley has performed the role of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar more than five thousand times, most of these more than twenty years after the first release of the film in 1973. In the nineties the initial Jesus Christ Superstar tour was originally scheduled for only three months in the USA. The success however was so great that the tour was extended for five years nonstop. In 1999 Ted Neeley appeared in the musical Rasputin, followed a year later by the world premiere of Murder in the First, followed by the role of Lucky in Waiting for Godot in 2004.
In 2006 Ted Neeley went back on tour with Jesus Christ Superstar, and this tour was extended to 2010. In the spring of 2014 Ted Neeley is invited to play the title role yet again, this time in a production in Rome, directed by Massimo Romeo Piparo, followed by a hugely successful tour of Italy, including a sold out performance at the world famous Arena di Verona. The tour also plays a sold out run at the World Forum Theater in The Hague, The Netherlands, in December 2015.
Neeley does not get bored, on the contrary. The passion with which he plays Jesus, seems to be only getting stronger. "I would love to play this role another five thousand times," says the now 72-year-old American. "In 1973 I was only a baby Jesus. Since then I have developed tremendously. I wish I had felt then what I feel now, the film would have been even more expressive. "