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Oliver Reed, 1938-1999

British "bad boy" actor and self-proclaimed "Mr. England" Oliver Reed, who appeared in 108 films and television movies over his 41-year career, died May 2nd, 1999 in the Malta capital of Valetta while completing the film "The Gladiator". Reed, whose roles ranged from B-Horror films to Dickens classics, was 61 years old.

Born in Wimbledon, London, England on February 13th, 1938, Robert Oliver Reed was the nephew of British film director Sir Carol Reed and the grandson of legendary actor and agent Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Reed's childhood was one he openly acknowledged as isolatory, raised between divorced parents who ignored one another, as well as Reed himself, who was sent as soon as feasible to boarding schools. Reed suffered from dyslexia that went undiagnosed until his late adulthood and performed poorly as a student, which found him frequently punished both at home and at school. Reed did excel at sports, and toward the end of his school days became a competitive long distance runner. It was ultimately his physical strength and size that got the young actor noticed and landed him his first job at 17- as a bouncer at a burlesque club.

Reed shrugged off assistance from his theatrical family members and used his contacts as a bouncer to charm his way into bit parts and walk-on roles in London films. In 1958 Reed made his first credited film appearance in the movie "London Calling", which helped the young hopeful secure regular work as a supporting actor in Hammer Studios films. Hammer was famous for its B-films and horror tales and launched careers for cult horror icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. In 1961 Hammer did the same for 23-year-old Oliver Reed when he played the starring role in "Curse of the Werewolf".

Reed came dangerously close to being typecast as a man-beast both on and off screen, his string of Hammer horror films casting him as sociopaths and fiends as in "These Are The Damned" to literal monsters. Off screen, Reed's behaviour could rival that of his outrageous film alter egos. He arrived in Galway Airport, Ireland, passed out and drunk on a baggage carousel. In Madrid, while shooting one of 5 films he appeared in during 1973, Reed stripped naked in a hotel restaurant and dove into an aquarium. On that occasion Reed was asked to leave the premises not for his skinny-dipping communion with the hotel goldfish but for taking part in a brawl. The ex-bouncer turned film star was famous for his fisticuffs, a 1963 altercation leaving him with 36 stitches closing an interesting assortment of facial lacerations.

Co-stars remarkably rarely complained about the excesses and adventures that went along with Reed, and he was never short of work, maintaining an amazing ability to be a consummate and considerate professional when the cameras rolled. Reeds films included some of the most acclaimed in each of 4 decades, and showed the actor to possess an unexpected versatility. Reed could play sensitive swashbuckler "Athos" (a role he reprised 3 times in "The 3 Musketeers and its sequels) or a comedic wild-west brigand in "Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday". Reed could boast credit for the first full-frontal male nudity in a feature film for his revealing role in the critically acclaimed "Women in Love" and wreak laughter as the alternately storming and simpering "God Vulcan" in Terry Gilliam's 1989 hit "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". Reed was as convincing as a God of the Forge twisted around the finger of Uma Thurman's "Venus" as he was a fiendish and despicable "Bill Sikes" in "Oliver!"

Oliver Reed had been well into filming his role as ex-fighter turned trainer "Proximo" in the Ridley Scott adventure "The Gladiator" on the Isle of Malta when he met his end, an end which moved his "Women In Love" co-star Glenda Jackson to comment to the press that she was "very sorry he was gone, but I think he probably went the way he would have wished".

Reed had been relaxing at a Valetta pub between filming and suffered a fatal heart attack after reputedly consuming 3 bottles of rum and defeating 5 (much younger) Royal Navy sailors at arm wrestling. Oliver Reed was 61 years old. He is survived by his 3rd wife, Josephine Burge Reed, a son, Mark, and a daughter, Sarah, both from earlier marriages.


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