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Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed

Born on Feb. 13, 1938 in Wimbledon, London, England, Reed was raised by his father, Peter, a sports journalist, and his mother, Marcia. He attended Ewell Castle School in Surrey and later served in the Royal Army Medical Corps before commencing on an acting career as an extra in the late 1950s without any formal training. Reed had his first big break scaring children on the British kids series "The Golden Spur" (BBC, 1959) and landed his first starring role in "The Curse of the Werewolf" (1961), playing a young man whose murderous impulses transmogrify into a hairy beast during the full moon. After appearing with Christopher Lee in "Pirates of Blood River" (1962) and Peter Cushing in "Captain Clegg" (1962), Reed attracted attention as a sadistic and lecherous motorcycle gang leader in Joseph Losey's "The Damned" (1963), which was released in the United States two years later as "These Are the Damned." Following support turns in the British action flick "The Brigand of Kandahar" (1965) and the action adventure "The Trap" (1966), he was as an upper-class cut-up in Michael Winner's "The Jokers" (1967) before turning in a memorable performance as the evil Bill Sykes in Uncle Carol Reed's Oscar-winning musical "Oliver!" (1968).Having spent the decade as a dependable supporting actor, Reed began taking on more leading roles, playing the target of an assassination who challenges his would-be killers in the black comedy "The Assassination Bureau" (1969). He next was the arrogant, intransigent mine owner Gerald Crich in Ken Russell's adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" (1969), which brought him international recognition thanks to his naked, homoerotic wrestling scene with Alan Bates that was the subject of much controversy for its unabashed depiction of full-frontal male nudity. He followed up with a starring turn in the historical drama "The Devils" (1971), playing real-live Urbain Grandier, a 17th century French priest whose promiscuity with the local women leads to accusations of possession that ends with him burned at the stake. After playing an outlaw rustler who kidnaps the wife (Candice Bergen) of a cattle baron (Gene Hackman) in the American-made Western "The Hunting Party" (1971), Reed portrayed the hot-blooded Athos in "The Three Musketeers" (1973). By this time, Reed was probably more famous for his heroic bouts of drinking off the set than he was for the characters he portrayed on the big screen. He became a founding member of a famed quartet of British actors that included Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole, who notoriously raised hell throughout the 1960s and 1970s while drinking themselves into oblivion, damaging their health, careers hotel rooms and a few innocent bystanders in the process.Following a reprisal of Athos in "The Four Musketeers" (1974), Reed had a supporting role in the Agatha Christie adaptation "And Then There Were None" (1974) and joined an all-star cast that included Ann-Margret, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Jack Nicholson for Ken Russell's musical adaptation of The Who's rock opera "Tommy" (1975). He next played Otto von Bismark opposite Malcolm McDowell in Richard Lester's "Royal Flash" (1975) and joined Lee Marvin for the rather forgettable Western comedy "The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday" (1976). After a misguided remake of "The Big Sleep" (1978) that cast him as gambler Eddie Mars, Reed starred as an unconventional psychotherapist in David Cronenberg's disturbing horror film, "The Brood" (1979). He embarked on a string of bad horror flicks like "Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype" (1980), "Spasms" (1982) and "Venom" (1982) before playing Doyle Lonnegan in the vastly inferior sequel "The Sting II" (1983). Reed continued his string of poor movies with the erotic drama "Fanny Hill" (1983) and the failed John Travolta-Olivia Newton John screwball comedy "Two of a Kind" (1983). Following the straight-to-video Disney release "Black Arrow" (1985), he appeared as Martin Pinzon in the two-part miniseries "Christopher Columbus" (CBS, 1985).Reed went on to star in the erotic romp "Castaway" (1986), in which he played a middle-aged man who puts out an ad requesting companionship on a deserted island for a year and receives a response from a bored desk clerk (Amanda Donohoe). While out promoting "Castaway," he made an infamous appearance in 1987 on "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993), where a visibly angry and somewhat inebriated Reed seemed on the verge of hitting the host, who continually prodded him over his reputation for heavy drinking. He went on play the evil Sarm in the poorly received sword and sorcery adventure "Gor" (1987) and later presided over the underworld domain as Vulcan in "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1988). Reed next portrayed Captain Billy Bones to Charlton Heston's Long John Silver in "Treasure Island" (TNT, 1990) and joined Ken Russell once again for the historical drama "Prisoner of Honor" (HBO, 1991). Meanwhile, he reprised Athos a second time for "The Return of the Musketeers" (USA Network, 1991), which was shot in 1989, but aired two years later.In the 1990s, Reed finally began rising above the dreck that had plagued his career throughout the previous decade, appearing in the miniseries "Return to Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1993) while supporting Oliver Platt and Jerry Lewis in the well-received comedy "Funny Bones" (1995). He next joined John Cleese and Bob Hoskins for the comedic thriller "Parting Shots" (1999), and followed that with a supporting turn alongside pals Jack Palance and Christopher Lee in the little scene historical adventure "Marco Polo" (2000). After a supporting turn in the biblical television movie, "Jeremiah" (ION, 2000), Reed appeared in what turned out to be his final film, "Gladiator" (2000), in which he played a gruff former gladiator who buys an outcast Roman general (Russell Crowe)-turned-slave and helps transform him into a champion gladiator. But on May 2, 1999, while on break during filming, Reed suffered a heart attack after a night of heavy drinking and died at 61 years old. Director Ridley Scott was forced to use CGI and even a mannequin to complete Reed's scenes in the movie. Thankfully he had only one major scene - his own execution - left to shoot at the time. The film, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, was dedicated to the actor.By Shawn Dwyer