Legendary music fan and naked hippie dancer "Jesus" dead at 72

William Jellett aka "Jesus" dancing at Knebworth in 1974
William Jellett aka "Jesus" dancing at Knebworth in 1974 (Image credit: Garry Clarke)

William Jellett, aka "Jesus", the legendary UK music fan known for his frequently naked appearances at UK music festivals throughout the 70s and 80s, has died at the age of 72. 

The news was confirmed by Jellett's brother, Eric, who wrote, "William Jellett was born on 6th June 1948 [in] Poole, Dorset, the youngest of four children. I am his brother and the eldest. I have not seen him for quite a while but one of my sisters has remained in contact with him.

"He has always remained in the London area but over the last few years he has not enjoyed the best of health, recently the decline was rapid.

"Last Friday my sister phoned to tell me that at 1 o'clock that morning the 8th January 2021 William died peacefully in his sleep in a London hospital.

"He will be cremated and the family hope his ashes scattered at his favourite place: Speakers Corner."

From the late sixties to the early nineties, Jellett was one of the most high-profile music fans in The UK, attending hundreds of live shows and music festivals and dancing wildly to the music, adding tambourine or maracas as the mood took him. For many festival goers, a trip to Reading or Knebworth wasn't complete until "Jesus" had been spotted. 

He was first inspired by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, telling the NME, "This guy was up there dancing about, like... and suddenly, I just got up out of my seat and started dancing like I’d never danced before. And there are people looking at me as if to say I’m crazy."

In November 1968 Jellett was filmed at Cream’s farewell show at the Royal Albert Hall, dancing with his usual lack of abandon during Sunshine of Your Love, and he was also present during the filming of The Rolling Stones' Rock And Roll Circus. He was later filmed during Blind Faith's Hyde Park show in June 1969, when DJ Jeff Dexter publicly referred to him as "Jesus" over the PA.  

The nickname stuck and Jellett took the role seriously, claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus, showing scars on his palms he claimed were stigmata, and setting up a "Jesus tent" at the Glastonbury festival in 1973. He also become a regular at Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park – a well-known site for public debate – where he preached about the importance of music and the dangers of drugs.

“I went to churches," he told the NME. "I went to meetings. I went to lectures and I was always ready to stand up and tell people what I’d found out. And you know how they reacted towards me? ‘Go away, you’re interfering’. That really hurt me. I was only trying to help them.”

Jellett became so well-known that he regularly appeared onstage with bands, contributing penny whistle to Stray’s Live At The Marquee and infuriating "Philthy" Phil Taylor by playing bongos during a Motorhead show. 

"Today we have heard the sad news that Jesus has passed away over the weekend," wrote Stray on Facebook. "His tireless energy dancing was always welcomed by bands and fans alike. We are sure that he will continue dancing forever now. God bless."

"I was the piper at the gates of dawn," wrote Jellett, on a flyer handed out at Speaker's Cormer in 2000. "I was the piper in the stairway to heaven."

Read more about William Jellett

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.