Sir Ian McKellen pays tribute to theater and film producer Bill Kenwright

Sir Ian McKellen led tributes to theater and film producer Bill Kenwright, saying showbusiness “will be dimmer now he's gone”.

The Everton FC chairman has died aged 78 “surrounded by his family and loved ones”, according to an official statement published on the club's website.

Theater and film production company Bill Kenwright Limited said in a statement released on Tuesday that he died after a “long battle with illness” and “passed away peacefully last night”.

Sir Ian, 84, who starred in the 2023 film The Critic – co-produced by Kenwright – wrote a tribute to the football chair on X, formerly Twitter.

He said: “Bill Kenwright (1945-2023) Like many grateful actors, I am indebted to Bill Kenwright for work.”

He added: “We were young together when he was in Coronation Street (as Gordon Clegg) and I was dipping my toe in Shaftesbury Avenue.

“Since then, I have admired the resilient way in which he encouraged theater to thrive in London and the regions.

“Whether it was another tour of that great musical ‘Blood Brothers' or Peter Hall's sponsorship of the classics.

“In private, Bill enjoyed gossiping and reminiscing.

“He seemed to know everyone in the business and care about them.

“However, every conversation would turn to his one passion – Everton football.

“The city that gave us the Beatles and two great football teams also created a unique impresario.

I saw the care he had for the Hillsborough families when they were going through everything they went through

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham

“Whether the lights of the West End go out in his memory, surely our work will be dimmer now that he is gone.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham described Kenwright as “magnanimous” and spoke of his response to the Hillsborough disaster where dozens were killed in a crash at a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on 15 April 1989.

Speaking to the PA news agency outside Old Trafford, he said: “I saw the care he had for the Hillsborough families when they were going through everything they went through.

“That was Bill Kenwright. Before people thought of anything else, that was him, that was the man, just somebody with warmth, generosity.”

British theater producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh called Kenwright “prolific” and “irresistible”.

In my life, there has never been anyone like Bill. He is absolutely irreplaceable and will be greatly missed

Sir Cameron Mackintosh

In a statement seen by the PA news agency, Sir Cameron said: “The world of British theater without Bill Kenwright seems impossible.”

He added: “Bill was fearless, prolific and irrepressible – he couldn't bear to see any theater empty, so he would put on a production almost overnight to fill it!

“His enthusiasm knew no bounds, employing in his long career tens of thousands of actors – occasionally, including himself – a tireless broadcaster, often also a director and above all, a champion of the people he believed in.

“And theater wasn't even his day job – his real job was managing Everton!

“In my life, there has never been anyone like Bill. He is absolutely irreplaceable and will be greatly missed.”

Also paying tribute to the theater giant was comedian and actor Julian Clary, who said he would be “forever grateful” to Kenwright.

He told X: “RIP Bill Kenwright. I am forever grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to play Emcee in Cabaret at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue in 2007.

“After the first night he said ‘You're so brave… so brave!'”

Meanwhile, singer Antony Costa, known as a member of boy band Blue, also posted on X and said: “I just heard the news my friend and mentor and the person who gave me the opportunity to perform on stage, Mr. Bill Kenwright, died.

“You were one in a million sir… we loved talking football RIP Bill xx”

Comedian Jason Manford spoke of the producer's “love” for theater and football in another X post.

He said: “I was saddened to hear that Bill Kenwright has passed away.

“We have met him many times over the years as we have been trying to work together so very sad that now it will never happen.

“I have always been funny and honest and with a deep love for theater and football. I will miss him sadly.”

Kenwright produced “over 500 touring West End, Broadway, UK and international theater productions, films and music albums,” according to a statement from Bill Kenwright Limited.

“His impact on the arts industry was profound,” they said, adding: “He will be remembered with enormous love and admiration – the shows will of course go on, as he would have wanted and his towering legacy will live on.”

By the age of 12 Kenwright had made his stage debut at the Liverpool Playhouse, attending Liverpool Institute High School at the same time as Sir Paul McCartney and George Harrison and touring local pubs and clubs with his R'n'B band. The Chevrolets.

The theater impresario and film producer had worked with Sir Tim Rice and Lord Lloyd-Webber on Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita and produced the hit West End show Blood Brothers.