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Obituaries

Carl Anderson, 58; Actor Played Judas in 'Jesus Christ Superstar'

February 25, 2004|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Carl Anderson, a balladeer and actor known for his rich, expressive voice, whose greatest success during a three-decade career was playing Judas in the landmark musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a seven-month battle with leukemia. He was 58.

Anderson, who lived in Los Angeles, was diagnosed with leukemia last summer during a national revival tour of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about the last week in the life of Jesus.

He did not originate the Judas role, but played it in the original Broadway production in 1971 and in the 1973 film directed by Norman Jewison.

He often said that he was destined to play Judas, a role he brought to life on stage, by his own estimate, about 1,200 times.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 26, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Anderson obituary -- The obituary of balladeer and actor Carl Anderson in Wednesday's California section should have stated that his survivors included three brothers.

"It really was his show," said Tom McCoy, whose company produced the latest tour. "He did not miss a beat from the film he did of 'Superstar' 30 years ago. It's his intensity, his extreme knowledge of who Judas was ... and the part Judas played in the story."

Anderson was planning to appear in a worldwide tour reuniting several of the original cast members, including Ted Neeley as Jesus, that was to open at the Vatican this fall. He directed a command performance there of selected songs from "Superstar" for Pope John Paul II as part of the Vatican Jubilee celebration in 2000.

Born in Lynchburg, Va., Anderson was one of 12 children of James, a steelworker, and Alberta, a seamstress. His mother persuaded him to join a choir when he was in high school, and he reluctantly obliged. To his surprise, singing became his passion.

After high school, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he studied at Howard University and became lead singer for a rock band called Second Eagle. When the band decided to perform songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar," which had been a sensation in England but had not yet had its American premiere, producer Robert Stigwood tried to stop them. But the unauthorized performance, part of a Palm Sunday Mass at a Washington church, went forward.

As luck would have it, a producer for the American production saw part of the show when it was covered by a camera crew from the "Today" show.

"The producer is sitting in New York and he sees a clip of me on the 'Today' show and said, 'That's Judas. Bring him here.' " So when I say this part came and found me, I really mean it," Anderson told the Chicago Tribune in 1993.

The producers wound up casting Ben Vereen as Judas for the original Broadway cast, but Anderson took over the part when Vereen was sidelined by illness. After Vereen recovered, he and Anderson alternated in the role for six months.

Anderson later played Judas in the Los Angeles premiere of "Superstar" and, despite Jewison's initial reservations, won the role in the movie, which earned him two Golden Globe nominations and an NAACP Image Award.

After the resounding success of "Superstar," Anderson found it difficult to establish an identity apart from his appearances as Judas. He refused to reprise the role during the 1970s and early 1980s and would not mention it on his resume as he pursued work as a jazz vocalist.

He recorded several albums in the 1980s and '90s, which included two moderate chart successes, "How Deep Does It Go" and "My Love Will." Another recording, "Forbidden Lover" with Nancy Wilson, was nominated for a Grammy. A duet with "Days of Our Lives" star Gloria Loring called "Friends and Lovers" was a hit in 1986.

He also appeared on television shows such as "Hill Street Blues" and in movies, including "The Color Purple."

In 2002 he joined the revival tour of "Superstar" mounted by skating star Cathy Rigby's production company, McCoy-Rigby Entertainment. Reviewers greeted his return enthusiastically, including the critic for the San Antonio Express-News who wrote that the show "ignites every time that he appears."

Anderson said his interpretation of the role changed over the years as he infused more sympathy into his portrayal. "I'm playing a much more introspective Judas," he told the Boston Herald last year.

He had received threats many times from people who disapproved of the show, which depicted Jesus as a flawed and fallible man and Judas as more of a victim than a villain. But he told another interviewer recently that he was glad that he persevered because "I have lived to see the [musical] recognized as a masterpiece."

Anderson is survived by his wife, Veronica; a son from a previous marriage, Khalil McGhee-Anderson; stepdaughters Hannah and Laila Ali; and several sisters.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Agape International Spiritual Church, 5700 Buckingham Parkway, Culver City.

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