Robert Oliver Reed (13 February 1938 - 2 May 1999) was an English actor. Reed exemplified his macho image in "tough guy" roles. His films include The Trap, Oliver!, Women in Love, Hannibal Brooks, The Devils, The Three Musketeers, Tommy, Castaway, Lion of the Desert and Gladiator. At the peak of his career, in 1971, British exhibitors voted Reed 5th most popular star at the box office.
He was born Robert Oliver Reed in Wimbledon, London, to sports journalist Peter Reed and his wife Marcia (née Napier-Andrews). He was the nephew of film director Sir Carol Reed, and grandson of the actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree by his alleged mistress May Pinney Reed. He was alleged to have been a descendant (through an illegitimate step) of Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia. Reed attended Ewell Castle School in Surrey.
Oliver's brother is Simon Reed, who is a sports journalist and also works for British Eurosport.
After compulsory military service, in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Reed commenced his thespian career as an extra in films in the late 1950s. He appeared uncredited in two Norman Wisdom films, The Square Peg (1958) and The Bulldog Breed (1960), in which Reed played the leader of a gang of Teddy Boys roughing up Wisdom in a cinema. Uncredited television appearances during this period include episodes of The Invisible Man (1958) and The Four Just Men (1959). Reed played a small part in the film The League of Gentlemen.
Reed got his first significant roles in Hammer Films' Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), Captain Clegg (1962), The Pirates of Blood River (1962), The Scarlet Blade (1963) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). Reed also starred in Paranoiac and The Damned (1963).
Reed also managed to release some recordings in a 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.
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.). More Hammer Films productions followed, such as The Brigand Of Kandahar (1965). He first collaborated with director Ken Russell in a TV biopic of Claude Debussy in 1965, and later played Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Russell's subsequent TV biopic Dante's Inferno (1967).
In 1966 Reed played a mountain fur trapper, with co-star Rita Tushingham, in an action-adventure film The Trap with a soundtrack by British film composer Ron Goodwin. Reed's presence could be seen in The Shuttered Room (1967). Reed played the role of Bill Sikes, 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 Oliver! (1968). The following year, Reed played the title role in Michael Winner's World War II action-comedy Hannibal Brooks (1969), alongside an elephant named Lucy.
His next project with Ken Russell, a film version of Women in Love, was first released during the same year, in which he wrestled naked with Alan Bates in front of a log fire. The controversial Russell film The Devils (1971) was followed in the summer of 1975 by the same director's musical film Tommy, based on The Who's 1969 concept album Tommy and starring its lead singer Roger Daltrey. 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).
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."
Reed starred as Athos the musketeer in three films based on Alexandre Dumas's novels. First in The Three Musketeers (1973), followed by The Four Musketeers (1974), and The Return of the Musketeers (1989). He starred in a similarly historical themed film, 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 horror 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.
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 US 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).
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, an actor whom Reed admired greatly both on and off the screen. The film was released after his death with some footage filmed with a double, digitally mixed with outtake footage. The film was dedicated to him. He was posthumously nominated for a British Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in this film, and also for the Screen Actors Guild Award, along with the rest of the principal players for Best Ensemble Cast.
The writer Robert Sellers published in 2013 What Fresh Lunacy Is That? - The Authorised Biography of Oliver Reed.
In 1959-1960, Reed married Kate Byrne. 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. 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. In his last years, Reed and Burge lived in Churchtown, County Cork, Ireland.
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 St Peter Port.
Reed's face was scarred in a 1963 bar fight after which he received 63 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: The Sting (1973; although he did appear in the 1983 sequel The Sting II) and Jaws (1975).
Reed was known for his alcoholism and binge drinking. Numerous anecdotes exist, such as Reed and 36 friends drinking in an 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. They ended up on a marathon pub crawl during which Reed vomited on McQueen.
Reed was often irritated that his appearances on TV chat shows concentrated on his drinking feats rather than his latest film. David Letterman cut to a commercial when it appeared Reed might get violent after being asked too many questions about his drinking. In 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).
He 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. 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 memorable phrase, "Give us a kiss, big tits."
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 addition, he was arrested in the southern US, where he was acquitted of disturbing the peace while drunk. He was banned from Georgia as a result. In December 1987, Reed, who already suffered from gout, became seriously ill with kidney problems as a result of his alcoholism and had to abstain from drinking for a year.
In later years, Reed could often be seen quietly drinking with his wife, Josephine Burge, at the bar of the White Horse Hotel in Dorking, Surrey, not far from his home in Oakwoodhill. When working in London, he was often found at the Duke of Hamilton pub in Hampstead, an area and pub he often frequented earlier in his career with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton.
In his final years, when he lived in Ireland, he 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 laid to rest.
Reed died from a heart attack during a break from filming Gladiator in Valletta, Malta, on 2 May 1999. He was 61 years old. Several of his scenes in Gladiator had to be completed using computer-generated imagery (CGI) techniques and, in one place, a mannequin.
Reed's funeral was held in Churchtown, County Cork, where he had spent the last years of his life. The song "Consider Yourself" from the film Oliver! was played at Oliver Reed's funeral.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license