No Australian entertainer has achieved the same level of broad-based success — on TV, in the theatre, on stage and record — as Jon English, who died on March 9, aged 66.
Whether he was hamming it up on the Channel 9 sitcom All Together Now — playing faded, jaded rocker Bobby Rivers in a nifty piece of typecasting — or winking his way through 1000-plus performances of Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, cutlass at the ready; belting out such psychodramas as "Hollywood Seven" and "Turn the Page" straight to the business end of the charts; or rocking sweaty suburban beer barns, English was perfectly at ease with whatever role he was playing. His ability to move seamlessly between his many gigs was a rare skill, which dated all the way back to his breakthrough appearances as a moody, broody Judas Iscariot in 1972's Jesus Christ Superstar and rolled on for five decades.
He also opened the eyes of many others; in his wake, such notables as John Farnham, Jon Stevens, Angry Anderson and Kate Ceberano, to name just a few, also stretched themselves creatively and moved beyond their 'regular' gigs — all four appeared in 1992's revamping of Jesus Christ Superstar. Interestingly, when English took a sabbatical from the stage role of Rasputin in the late 1980s, his role as the dangerous Russian with the serious moustache was taken by Dragon's Marc Hunter, a moonlighting rock star. Yet another convert to English's multitasking world.
But none of his peers shifted between forms as smoothly as English. He was a natural, regardless of what role he was playing, whereas you always got the uneasy feeling many of his peers were either dabbling, chasing the lucre or trying to reinvent themselves. English didn't discriminate; he simply moved from gig to gig, format to format, his toothy grin and dark eyes the only constant.
It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to connect English's genre-jumping success to the 21st century pop star of today, who not only records, but acts, passes judgement in reality TV shows, tweets, blogs, Instagrams and saves threatened species. A product of the pre-digital world, English kept his skills to the performance itself, but his influence on today's Mauboys and Goodrems is undeniable.
Singer / actor / comic / rocker, English was the definitive 'slashie', years before the term even existed. Typically, he was about to embark on a national tour when he died.
Topics: Jon English