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Superstar actor took his own life over unfounded cancer fears

PUBLISHED: 13:47 30 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:20 07 September 2010

Ham&High reporter AN ACTOR who starred in one of the nation s biggest musicals hanged himself on Hampstead Heath because he was convinced he had lung cancer. Lee Rhodes, of Greencroft Gardens, South Hampstead, took his life just two days before he was due

Ham&High reporter

AN ACTOR who starred in one of the nation's biggest musicals hanged himself on Hampstead Heath because he was convinced he had lung cancer.

Lee Rhodes, of Greencroft Gardens, South Hampstead, took his life just two days before he was due to see a psychiatrist.

The actor, who once played the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit show Jesus Christ Superstar, was in fact a healthy 38-year-old with no trace of the disease.

His family insists he could have been given better care.

Just two weeks before his death, Mr Rhodes had gone to casualty after taking an overdose.

Ima Castro, speaking on behalf of Mr Rhodes's widow, Irene, at St Pancras Coroner's Court last Friday, said: "She thinks the NHS failed Lee. She thinks that after the overdose he should have been monitored 24/7."

Mr Rhodes, who was married with a seven-year-old son, had become increasingly anxious in the months before his death.

Deputy assistant coroner Sean McGovern said: "Mr Rhodes had appeared in a number of shows, along with his wife, but last year his mental health declined.

"He resigned from his job and was troubled by a number of issues including his own health and the possibility that he might have lung cancer."

On May 1, Mr Rhodes went to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead because he had taken an overdose. He was then referred for help and saw a psychiatrist on May 12. A second appointment was scheduled for May 18 but on May 16, the actor was found hanging by Whitestone Pond on Hampstead Heath.

Mr McGovern recorded a verdict of suicide at the hearing.

Speaking after the inquest, Ms Castro said: "Lee's father-in-law died from lung cancer two weeks before Lee took his own life.

"I suppose that led Lee to think that he also had the same thing.

"Lee had this chest infection for three to four months and he was sure he had lung cancer."

His father, Burt Rhodes, said: "Lee was an absolutely lovely human being. Everybody who met him wanted to be his friend and loved him."

Friend Ellen Briones added: "He was sick and he was crying out for help."

Mr Rhodes starred in a touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1998 and 1999. There are now plans for a West End event to be held in the actor's memory.

Ms Castro said: "We are going to produce a cabaret to raise awareness of mental health in the theatre world. There are lots of actors who are going through the same thing."

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