Oliver Reed

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Oliver Reed
Oliver Reed 1968 (cropped).jpg
Oliver Reed in 1968
Born Robert Oliver Reed
(1938-02-13)13 February 1938
Wimbledon, London, UK
Died 2 May 1999(1999-05-02) (aged 61)
Valletta, Malta
Burial place Churchtown, County Cork
Occupation Actor
Years active 1958–1999
Kate Byrne
(m. 1959; div. 1969)

Josephine Burge
(m. 1985; his death 1999)
Children 2

Robert Oliver Reed (13 February 1938 – 2 May 1999) was an English actor known for his upper-middle class, macho image, hellraiser lifestyle, and "tough guy" roles. Notable films include The Trap (1966), playing Bill Sikes in the Best Picture Oscar winner Oliver! (1968), Women in Love (1969), Hannibal Brooks (1969), The Devils (1971), portraying Athos in The Three Musketeers (1973), Tommy (1975), Lion of the Desert (1981), Castaway (1986), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and Funny Bones (1995).

For playing Antonius Proximo, an old, gruff gladiator trainer in Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000) in what was his final film, Reed was posthumously nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. At the peak of his career, in 1971, British exhibitors voted Reed 5th most popular star at the box office.[1] An alcoholic, Reed's issues with drink were well publicised, from appearances on chat shows to a high-profile friendship with drinking partner, The Who drummer Keith Moon, with the two meeting while working on Tommy.

Early life

Reed was born at 9 Durrington Park Road,[2] Wimbledon, to sports journalist Peter Reed and his wife Marcia (née Napier-Andrews).[3] He was the nephew of film director Sir Carol Reed, and grandson of the actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and his mistress, May Pinney Reed. His other grandmother was Beatrice Reed, "the only person who understood, listened to, encouraged and kissed Oliver".[4] Reed claimed to have been a descendant (through an illegitimate step) of Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia.[5] Reed attended 14 schools,[6] including Ewell Castle School in Surrey. Oliver's brother Simon Reed, a sports journalist, works for British Eurosport.[7][8]


Early years

After compulsory military service in the Royal Army Medical Corps,[9] Reed commenced his thespian career as an extra in films in the late 1950s. He appeared uncredited in a Norman Wisdom film, The Square Peg (1958). Uncredited television appearances during this period include episodes of The Invisible Man (1958) and The Four Just Men (1959). He was in a documentary Hello London (1958).

Reed played small uncredited parts in the films The Captain's Table (1959), Upstairs and Downstairs (1959), Life Is a Circus (1960), The Angry Silence (1960), The League of Gentlemen (1960) and Beat Girl (1960). He played a bouncer in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) for Hammer Films with whom he would become associated; the director was Terence Fisher. Reed was then in another Wisdom film, The Bulldog Breed (1960), playing the leader of a gang of Teddy Boys roughing up Wisdom in a cinema

Reed got his first significant role in Hammer Films' Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), again directed by Fisher. He went back to small roles for His and Hers (1961), No Love for Johnnie (1961) and The Rebel (1961).

Leading Man

Reed's first starring role came when Hammer cast him as the central character in Terence Fisher’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). Hammer liked Reed and gave him good supporting roles in The Pirates of Blood River (1962), Captain Clegg (1962), These Are the Damned (1963), Paranoiac (1963), and The Scarlet Blade (1963).

He had the lead in a non-Hammer horror around this time, The Party's Over (made 1963, released 1965), directed by Guy Hamilton.

Michael Winner

In 1964 he starred in the first of six films directed by Michael Winner, The System, (known as The Girl-Getters in the U.S.). The following year he had his first collaboration with Ken Russell, The Debussy Film (1965), a TV biopic of Claude Debussy.

Reed returned to Hammer for The Brigand of Kandahar (1965), then played the lead in a Canadian-British co production, The Trap (1966).

Reed's career stepped up another level when he starred in the popular comedy film The Jokers (1966), his second film with Winner. After playing a villain in a horror movie, The Shuttered Room (1967) he did a third with Winner, I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967).

Oliver! and stardom

Reed became a star playing Bill Sikes in Oliver! (1968), alongside Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Mark Lester, Jack Wild and Harry Secombe, in his uncle Carol Reed's screen version of the successful stage musical.

He was in the black comedy The Assassination Bureau (1969); and a war film for Winner, Hannibal Brooks (1969). More successful than either was his fourth film with Russell, a film version of Women in Love (1969), in which he wrestled naked with Alan Bates in front of a log fire. Take a Girl Like You (1970) was a sex comedy with Hayley Mills; The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (1970) was a thriller. The following year, Reed appeared in the controversial film The Devils (1971).

An anecdote holds that Reed could have been chosen to play James Bond. In 1969, Bond franchise producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were looking for a replacement for Sean Connery and Reed (who had recently played a resourceful killer in The Assassination Bureau) was mentioned as a possible choice for the role. Whatever the reason, Reed was never to play Bond. After Reed's death, the Guardian Unlimited called the casting decision, "One of the great missed opportunities of post-war British movie history."

He made a series of action-orientated projects: The Hunting Party (1971), Sitting Target (1972), and Z.P.G. (1972). The Triple Echo (1972) was directed by Michael Apted.

Reed also appeared in a number of Italian films: Dirty Weekend (1973), One Russian Summer (1973) and Revolver (1973). He had great success playing Athos in The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974).

Reed had an uncredited bit-part in Russell's Mahler (1974), was the lead in Blue Blood (1973) and And Then There Were None (1974) . His next project with Ken Russell was Tommy, based on The Who's 1969 concept album Tommy and starring its lead singer Roger Daltrey. Royal Flash (1975) reunited him with Richard Lester and George MacDonald Fraser.

Reed made another contribution to the horror genre, acting alongside Karen Black, Bette Davis, and Burgess Meredith in the Dan Curtis film Burnt Offerings (1976). He was in The Sell Out (1976) and The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday (1976). He returned to swashbuckling in Crossed Swords (UK title The Prince and the Pauper) (1977), as Miles Hendon alongside Raquel Welch and a grown up Mark Lester, who had worked with Reed in Oliver!. Reed returned to the horror genre as Dr. Hal Raglan in David Cronenberg's 1979 film The Brood.


From the 1980s onwards Reed's films had less success, his more notable roles being Gen. Rodolfo Graziani in Lion of the Desert (1981), which co-starred Anthony Quinn and chronicled the resistance to Italy's occupation of Libya; and in Castaway (1986) as the middle aged Gerald Kingsland, who advertises for a "wife" (played by Amanda Donohoe) to live on a desert island with him for a year. On 20 January 2016 ISIS used a clip of Lion of the Desert and Reed's role in the film to threaten Italy with sickening attacks.[10]

He also starred as Lt-Col Gerard Leachman in the Iraqi historical film Al-Mas' Ala Al-Kubra (a.k.a. Clash of Loyalties) in 1982, which dealt with Leachman's exploits during the 1920 revolution in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).

By the late 1980s, he was largely appearing in exploitation films produced by the impresario Harry Alan Towers, most of which were filmed in South Africa at the time of apartheid and released straight to video in the United States and UK. These included Skeleton Coast (1987), Gor (1987), Dragonard (1987) and its filmed-back-to-back sequel Master Of Dragonard Hill, Hold My Hand I'm Dying (aka Blind Justice) (1988), House Of Usher (1988), Captive Rage (1988), and The Revenger (1989).

Final years

His last major successes were Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) (as the god Vulcan), Treasure Island (1990) (as Captain Billy Bones), and Peter Chelsom's Funny Bones (1995).

His final role was the elderly slave dealer Proximo in Gladiator (2000), in which he played alongside Richard Harris,[11] an actor whom Reed admired greatly both on and off the screen.[12] The film was released after his death with some footage filmed with a double,[13] digitally mixed with outtake footage.[14] The film was dedicated to him.[15] In addition to his posthumous BAFTA recognition, he shared the film's nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture with the rest of the principal players.


In addition to acting, Reed released several singles in the popular music vein, though with limited success. These included "Wild One"/"Lonely for a Girl" (1961), "Sometimes"/"Ecstasy" (1962), "Baby It's Cold Outside" (duet with Joyce Blair) and "Wild Thing" (1992) (duet with snooker ace Alex Higgins). Oliver also later narrated a track called "Walpurgis Nacht" by heavy metal band Death SS.[16]

Personal life

In 1959–1960, Reed married Kate Byrne.[17] The couple had one son, Mark, before their divorce in 1969. While filming his part of Bill Sikes in Oliver!, he met Jacquie Daryl, a classically trained dancer who was also in the film.[18] They became lovers and subsequently had a daughter named Sarah. In 1985, he married Josephine Burge, to whom he was still married at the time of his death. She was only 16 years old when they met, in comparison to his 42.[19] In his last years, Reed and Burge lived in Churchtown, County Cork, Ireland.


Broome Hall, Surrey, Reed's home from the late 1960s to 1980s

Reed's face was scarred in a bar fight in 1964 after which he received sixty three stitches and was in danger of losing his film career over his facial damage. He claimed to have turned down major roles in two Hollywood movies, including The Sting (although he did appear in the 1983 sequel The Sting II).

When the UK government raised taxes on personal income, Reed initially declined to join the exodus of major British film stars to Hollywood and other more tax-friendly locales. In the late 1970s Reed finally relocated to Guernsey as a tax exile. He had sold his large house, Broome Hall, between the villages of Coldharbour and Ockley some years earlier and initially lodged at the Duke of Normandie Hotel in Saint Peter Port.[20]

In 2013, the writer Robert Sellers published What Fresh Lunacy Is This? – The Authorised Biography of Oliver Reed.[21]


Appearing on After Dark with Kate Millett - more here

Reed was known for his alcoholism and binge drinking.[22] Numerous anecdotes exist, such as Reed and 36 friends of his drinking in one evening: 60 gallons of beer, 32 bottles of scotch, 17 bottles of gin, four crates of wine, and a bottle of Babycham. He subsequently revised the story, claiming he drank 106 pints of beer on a two-day binge before marrying Josephine Burge; "The event that was reported actually took place during an arm-wrestling competition in Guernsey about 15 years ago, it was highly exaggerated." Steve McQueen told the story that in 1973 he flew to the UK to discuss a film project with Reed and suggested the two men visit a London nightclub.[23] They ended up on a marathon pub crawl during which Reed got so drunk he vomited on McQueen.[23]

Reed became a close friend and drinking partner of The Who's drummer Keith Moon in 1974 while working together on the film version of Tommy.[24] With their reckless lifestyles Reed and Moon had much in common, and both cited the hard drinking actor Robert Newton as a role model.[25] Christopher Lee, a friend and colleague of Reed, commented on his alcoholism in 2014: "when he started, after [drink] number eight, he became a complete monster. It was awful to see."[26]

Reed was often irritated that his appearances on TV talk shows concentrated on his drinking feats rather than his latest films and acting career. On 26 September 1975, in front of a speechless Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, the bellicose Reed had a glass of whisky poured over his head on-camera by an enraged Shelley Winters (Winters had been upset by Reed's derogatory comments toward women).[27] David Letterman cut to a commercial when Reed became belligerent after being asked too many questions about his drinking during on 5 August 1987, during his appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.

Reed was held partly responsible for the demise of BBC1's Sin on Saturday after some typically forthright comments on the subject of lust, the sin featured on the first programme. The show had many other problems, and a fellow guest revealed that Reed recognised this when he arrived and virtually had to be dragged in front of the cameras. Near the end of his life, he was brought onto some TV shows specifically for his drinking; for example The Word put bottles of liquor in his dressing room so he could be secretly filmed getting drunk[citation needed]. He left the set of the Channel 4 television discussion programme After Dark after arriving drunk and attempting to kiss feminist writer Kate Millett, uttering the phrase, "Give us a kiss, big tits".[citation needed]

However, Cliff Goodwin's biography of Reed, Evil Spirits, offered the theory that Reed was not always as drunk on chat shows as he appeared to be, but rather was acting the part of an uncontrollably sodden former star to liven things up, at the producers' behests. In October 1981, Reed was arrested in Vermont, where he was tried and acquitted of disturbing the peace while drunk. However, he pleaded no contest to two assault charges and was fined $1,200.[28] In December 1987, Reed, who was overweight and already suffered from gout,[29] became seriously ill with kidney problems as a result of his alcoholism and had to abstain from drinking for over one year on the advice of his doctor.

In his final years, when he lived in Ireland, Reed was a regular in the one-roomed O'Brien's Bar in Churchtown, County Cork, close to the 13th-century cemetery in the heart of the village where he was buried.[30][31]

Death and aftermath

Reed died from a heart attack during a break from filming Gladiator in Valletta, Malta, on 2 May 1999.[32] Some said he drank eight pints of lager, a dozen double rums and half a bottle of whiskey[33] in a drinking match against sailors on shore leave from H.M.S. Cumberland.[34] He was 61 years old. Fellow Gladiator actor Omid Djalili said in 2016: "He hadn't had a drink for months before filming started ... Everyone said he went the way he wanted, but that's not true. It was very tragic. He was in an Irish bar and was pressured into a drinking competition. He should have just left, but he didn't."[35] Russell Crowe also said in 2010: "I never got on with Ollie. He has visited me in dreams and asked me to talk kindly of him. So I should... but we never had a pleasant conversation."[36]

Gladiator had to be completed using computer-generated imagery (CGI) techniques.[37] Despite this, he was posthumously nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor.[38]

A funeral for Reed was held in Churchtown, County Cork,[39] in Ireland where he resided the last years of his life, his body being interred in Churchtown's Bruhenny Graveyard.[40] On his gravestone reads the message, "He made the air move".



  1. ^ Waymark, Peter (30 December 1971). "Richard Burton top draw in British cinemas," The Times, London, p. 2.
  2. ^ Goodwin, Cliff Evil Spirits: The Life of Oliver Reed, London: Virgin Publishing Ltd, 2000
  3. ^ Reed, Oliver (1979). Reed All About Me: The Autobiography of Oliver Reed. W. H. Allen. p. 7. 
  4. ^ Milligan, Spike (22 April 2013). "LIFE AS the son of a hellraiser". Irish Independent. Retrieved 16 May 2018. 
  5. ^ Books Archived 8 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine.. OliverReed.net. Retrieved on 25 July 2013.
  6. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/film/1999/may/03/features1
  7. ^ Hastings, Chris (18 February 2001). "Oliver Reed's widow upset by Oscar snub". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 October 2016. 
  8. ^ "Simon Reed". Eurosport Tennis. Retrieved 30 October 2016. 
  9. ^ "Ex-army corporal who served with Oliver Reed wants to track down old comrades". South Wales Argus. Gannett Company. 10 March 2015. Retrieved 5 June 2018. 
  10. ^ Burman, Jake (20 January 2016). "ISIS use footage of BRITISH LEGEND Oliver Reed to threaten Italy in chilling new message". Daily Express. Express Newspapers. Retrieved 7 June 2018. 
  11. ^ Delaney, Tim; Madigan, Tim (22 July 2015). The Sociology of Sports: An Introduction (2nd ed.). McFarland Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 9780786497676. 
  12. ^ Collings, Mark (31 March 2014). "When Stars Collide: Richard Harris On Drinking With Ollie Reed". Sabotage Times. Retrieved 7 June 2018. 
  13. ^ Hassan, Genevieve (10 April 2017). "Missing in action: The films affected by actors' deaths". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 7 June 2018. 
  14. ^ Patterson, John (27 March 2015). "CGI Friday: a brief history of computer-generated actors". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 7 June 2018. 
  15. ^ Richards, Jeffrey (1 July 2008). Hollywood's Ancient Worlds. A&C Black. p. 177. ISBN 9780826435385. 
  16. ^ "OliverReed.net". OliverReed.net. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  17. ^ Edgar, Kathleen J.; Kondek, Joshua (1998). Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. 20. GALE Group. p. 346. ISBN 9780787620585. 
  18. ^ Sellers, Robert (19 February 2009). Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed. Random House. p. 149. ISBN 9781409050100. 
  19. ^ Jane, Warren. "Shy schoolgirl who stole the heart of Oliver Reed". Express. Retrieved 7 June 2018. 
  20. ^ "When Oliver Reed lived in Guernsey". Dukeofnormandie.com. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  21. ^ Rees, Jasper (4 July 2013). "What Fresh Lunacy is This? The authorised biography of Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers, review". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 16 May 2018. 
  22. ^ Prone, Terry (20 July 2013). "In good spirits: why actor Oliver Reed was always drunk but never bored". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 5 June 2018. 
  23. ^ a b Cliff Goodwin (2011). "Evil Spirits: The Life of Oliver Reed". p. 141. Random House
  24. ^ "'Moon the Loon' tops poll as rock's most excessive rogue". The Independent. 15 July 2015. 
  25. ^ Angus Konstam (2008) Piracy: The Complete History p.313. Osprey Publishing, Retrieved 11 October 2011
  26. ^ Festival del film Locarno. "Festival del film Locarno". pardolive.ch. 
  27. ^ Sellers, Robert (2008). Hellraisers, Preface Publishing, p. 128; ISBN 1906838364.
  28. ^ Krebs, Albin; Jr, Robert McG Thomas (28 October 1981). "NOTES ON PEOPLE; Actor Guilty in Brawl". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 13 November 2017. 
  29. ^ Goodwin, Cliff. Evil Spirits: The Life of Oliver Reed (2001) p. 246
  30. ^ [1] Archived 11 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  31. ^ "OliverReed.net". OliverReed.net. 9 May 1999. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  32. ^ "Oliver Reed, Diverse Actor For Film and TV, Dies at 61". The New York Times. 3 May 1999. 
  33. ^ Adam (5 May 2014). "Oliver Reed's last drink in Malta". Air Malta. Retrieved 5 June 2018. 
  34. ^ Blackstock, Colin (3 May 1999). "Oliver Reed dies after last drink". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 11 June 2018. 
  35. ^ "The day Oliver Reed grabbed me by the balls" by Omid Djalili, The Guardian, 24 January 2016
  36. ^ Singh, Anita (6 May 2010). "Russell Crowe: 'I'm not a hard man, I like poetry and wear make-up for a living'". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 4 June 2018. 
  37. ^ "15 Movie Scenes You Didn't Realise Were CGI". yahoo.com. 1 April 2015. 
  38. ^ Kennedy, Maev; arts; correspondent, heritage (1 February 2001). "Reed named for Bafta award". Theguardian.com. Retrieved 13 November 2017. 
  39. ^ Oliver, Ted (16 May 1999). "Ten-day farewell to king of hellraisers". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 15 August 2018. 
  40. ^ Hogan, Dick (17 May 1999). "Oliver Reed given a rousing send-off in Cork". Irish Times. Retrieved 15 August 2018. 

External links

  • Oliver Reed on IMDb
  • Oliver Reed at the BFI's Screenonline
  • Pergolani, Michael (May 1972). "Michael Pergolani interviews Oliver Reed". Playmen. OliverReed.net. 
  • "Oliver Reed obituary". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 May 1999. 
  • "Devil of an actor". The Guardian. London. 7 May 1999. Retrieved 24 February 2006. 
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