Jeffrey Craig "Jeff" Fenholt (September 15, 1950 – September 10, 2019) was an American singer and actor best known for his performance as the title character in the original Broadway theatre adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar and for his appearance on the cover of Time. In later years, Fenholt gained notoriety as a Christian evangelist and singer, as well as controversy over his involvement with the English heavy metal band Black Sabbath.
|Birth name||Jeffrey Craig Fenholt|
|Born||September 15, 1950|
|Genres||CCM, Christian rock/metal, hard rock, heavy metal|
|Occupation(s)||Singer-songwriter, musician, actor, evangelist|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano|
|Associated acts||Bible Black, Black Sabbath, Joshua, Tony Iommi, Driver, Geezer Butler Band, Craig Goldy|
Background and early yearsEdit
Fenholt grew up in Ohio and went to school in Columbus, Ohio. He was involved with a number of rock bands and performed at various school functions. Fenholt got his first regional hit recording titled "Goin' Too Far" with the band The Fifth Order when he was 14. He toured extensively while he was in high school. By his own admission, he was a troubled youth with a juvenile delinquency record. Later, while in college, he worked at Jeffrey Mining Machinery Co. as a material mover in the motor winding and assembly department, and loading and unloading beef sides for a non-union roughneck truck dock, EC Jones, Trucking. Fenholt attended Ohio State University for two years on a music scholarship, and later earned his B.A. in music at The School of Bible Theology University in San Jacinto, California.
Fenholt was cast as Jesus in the title role in the original Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. Jesus Christ Superstar sold in excess of 12 million albums. Future JCS legends Carl Anderson and Yvonne Elliman toured with Fenholt on the JCS world tour as Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene, respectively.
Fenholt co-founded Entertainment Capital Corporation with Jeff Thornburg, former president of The Robert Stigwood Org, producing Andy Warhol's film, Bad. ECC also produced recordings for Fenholt. Thornburg and Fenholt amicably parted ways when Thornburg accepted the position of head Of venture capital for Paramount Pictures.
In 1978, Fenholt recorded a disco LP titled Smile for CBS and was paid $300,000. Fenholt also recorded for Capitol Records, Universal, Paramount, Polygram, Polydor, Decca, RCA, and as a youth, Laurie, Diamond and Cameo Parkway. He last recorded for Sony.
Fenholt's 1994 autobiography From Darkness to Light reveals that he was abused and mistreated as a youth and subjected to frequent beatings. In 1996, Fenholt's parents sued him, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), and the publisher of his autobiography for $12 million each for defamation of character. Fenholt's siblings claimed he made up the stories of abuse, but the lawsuit subsequently was dropped after Fenholt produced court documents from the superior court of Franklin County, Ohio, confirming his claims. Fenholt later said that he had a "warm relationship" with his mother and family.
Conversion to ChristianityEdit
According to Fenholt's autobiography, he heavily was addicted to alcohol and drugs following the end of Jesus Christ Superstar's run on Broadway. Fenholt's often-repeated testimony (later published in his autobiography) details a visit from Christian construction workers (Nick Dissipio, owner, hired by his Christian wife to rebuild a wing of his house) who confronted him regarding his portrayal of Christ on stage. Fenholt converted to Christianity, abstained from his addictions, spent the next several years struggling to balance his faith and his career, and then became a high-profile personality on TBN. Fenholt sported long hair, an unusual style in conservative evangelical circles, and he often appeared with his wife Maureen (nicknamed Reeni).
Involvement with Tony Iommi/Black SabbathEdit
Fenholt built his career as a TBN personality based mostly upon his involvement with Jesus Christ Superstar, and Black Sabbath. In the Black Sabbath Biography publication Never Say Die, Fenholt said that Black Sabbath manager Don Arden informed him he was singing for Black Sabbath.
The Never Say Die book, written by Garry Sharpe-Young and updated as Sabbath Bloody Sabbath - The Battle for Black Sabbath, states that a substantial number of recordings were made during Fenholt's time with the group. It is acknowledged that this was a confusing time in the band's history, as singer David Donato had left the band after six months only having recorded demos. Geezer Butler and Bill Ward had left as well, leaving Tony Iommi as the sole original member.
Manager Don Arden suggested Iommi use Fenholt and tracks were written, in the main by Iommi and Nicholls, for a proposed new album. The book Never Say Die voices opinion from other band members that Fenholt might have been kept in the dark about plans to make an Iommi solo album. Geoff Nicholls has stated that after Fenholt's departure, Iommi wanted to use different singers, including David Coverdale, Steve Marriott, Glenn Hughes and Rob Halford.
Fenholt says several of his melodies were used in songs that appeared on Seventh Star (and subsequently did not receive credit for them). None of his lyrics were used, as confirmed by comparing the Fenholt demos with the album. Rumors suggesting he only left the project because of supposed personal conflicts with the lyrical material being written and his religious faith are suggested by Fenholt and Geoff Nicholls, who wrote the lyrics. Fenholt claims it was in fact a physical argument with Don Arden, along with Iommi's bad habits and Tony's proposed dark lyrics that caused his departure. However, Iommi has stated that Fenholt was never an official member of Black Sabbath. Iommi went on to say that he thought Fenholt had a great voice, but it didn't work, due to Fenholt having difficulty in singing "Sabbath" type lyrics and fitting in.
After his time with Iommi, Fenholt would briefly replace Jeff Scott Soto in Rudy Sarzo, of Ozzy and Whitesnake fame and Tommy Aldridge's, of Ozzy and Whitesnake new project, Driver. Upon recording several cuts with Driver (one of which is in common circulation amongst fans, "Rock the World") Fenholt left the project to do a solo tour of South America and was replaced by his successor in Joshua, Rob Rock. Following a legal dispute with another band of the same name, the Driver project would change its name to M.A.R.S., upon the recruitment of guitarist Tony MacAlpine. Only one album was released, 1986's Project: Driver, before the band officially disbanded. Fenholt continued as a solo Christian artist to perform numerous American and world tours in stadiums and arenas, often drawing in excess of 100,000 in attendance.
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In 1993, Fenholt announced on the TV program The 700 Club that he planned to do a Halloween concert in an arena in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Having advance notification from the attorney general of Massachusetts of his arrival in Wisconsin, Wiccan Priest Selena Fox (Circle Sanctuary) got a restraining order from the local county court prohibiting not only his trespass on private property but actually specifying that he stay a particular distance from the property line. Fenholt won in court.
In 1996, Fenholt was the chairman of a youth rally titled Washington for Jesusy on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, drawing nearly 500,000 in attendance. Fenholt raised over $1.7 million to stage the event, donating over $300,000 of his own funds.
An article in the December 1997 issue of Vanity Fair detailed his past as a "boy toy" for Gala Dalí, wife of Salvador Dalí, and it stated that he worked on the side as a representative for Salvador Dalí. The article was titled "Gala, Dali's Demon Bride". Fenholt was outraged at the depiction of Gala, and wrote a scathing letter to the editor, stating the authors had no evidence to substantiate their depiction of Gala Dalí.
Fenholt was divorced in 1998 and left TBN, except for a few brief appearances, including one after the events of September 11, 2001, that featured a marked change in his demeanor and appearance, including short hair and a quick exit from the stage following his performance. His album of Christian music was TBN's promotion in December 2001. Fenholt recorded five solo albums for TBN, featuring many of his own compositions. These sold in excess of 3.3 million copies. Fenholt earned one Platinum and two Gold albums. He briefly was seen doing a late-night timeslot for a half-hour program. Fenholt stated that after his divorce he had "lost his fire".
Fenholt returned to TBN on March 3, 2004 as a guest on Behind the Scenes, hosted by Paul Crouch. Fenholt mentioned Black Sabbath, citing the book Never Say Die.
In 2008, Fenholt was hired as executive producer of the Beijing Olympic concert series.
Fenholt lived with his wife Kim at their home in Newport Beach, California and his ranch in Colorado. He died on September 10, 2019, five days shy of his 69th birthday.
- "Simple Man / Billy Is Dead - Jeff Fenholt". 45cat. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
- "A Simple Man / Don't Expect Me To Be Your Friend - Lobo". 45cat. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
- "Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath" by Tony Iommi ISBN 978-0306821455
- "Jeff Fenholt Dies: Broadway's Original 'Jesus Christ Superstar' Was 68". 2019-09-11.