Robert Oliver Reed (1938-1999)

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Robert Oliver Reed was born 13 February 1938 in Wimbledon, England, United Kingdom to Peter Reed and Marcia Andrews and died 2 May 1999 in Valletta, Malta of unspecified causes. He married Kate Byrne 1959 . He married Josephine Burge 1985 .

Oliver Reed (13 February 1938 – 2 May 1999) was an English actor known for his burly screen presence. Reed exemplified his real-life macho image in "tough guy" roles. His films include The Trap, Oliver!, Women in Love, Hannibal Brooks, The Triple Echo, The Devils, The Three Musketeers, Tommy, Castaway, Lion of the Desert and Gladiator.

Early life

Reed was born Robert Oliver Reed in Wimbledon, London, to sports journalist Peter Reed and his wife Marcia (née Andrews).[1] 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 Tsar Peter the Great of Russia.[2] Reed attended Ewell Castle School in Surrey.


After time in the British Army, serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Reed commenced his thespian career as an extra in films in the late 1950s. He had no acting training or theatrical experience.

Oliver Reed appeared uncredited in an early Norman Wisdom classic, The Square Peg in 1958, and again with Norman Wisdom in another of his classic comedy films, The Bulldog Breed in (1960), where Reed played the leader of a gang of teddy boys roughing up Norman in a cinema. Reed got his first notable roles in Hammer Films' Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), Captain Clegg (1962), Pirates of Blood River (1962), and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). Reed also starred in Paranoiac, and The Damned. 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), after which came another performance in the film Women in Love (1969), in which he wrestled nude with Alan Bates in front of a log fire. The controversial 1971 film The Devils was followed in the summer of 1975 by the musical film Tommy, based on The Who's 1969 concept album Tommy and starring its lead singer Roger Daltrey: all three films were directed by Ken Russell. Reed made another contribution to the horror genre in 1976, acting alongside Karen Black, Bette Davis, and Burgess Meredith in the Dan Curtis film Burnt Offerings.

In between those films for Russell, 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 1968 screen version of the hit musical Oliver!. In 1969 Reed played the title role in Michael Winner's WWII action-comedy Hannibal Brooks, alongside an elephant named Lucy.

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 (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 General Rodolfo Graziani in the 1981 film Lion of the Desert, 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' to live on a desert island for a year. The 'wife' is played by Amanda Donohoe.

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

By the late 1980s, he was largely appearing in exploitation films produced by the infamous 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), Dragonard (1987) and its filmed-back-to-back sequel Master Of Dragonard Hill, Hold My Hand I'm Dying (1988), House Of Usher (1988), Captive Rage (1988), Gor (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, 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 in 2000 with some footage filmed with a double, digitally mixed with outtake footage. 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.

Personal life

In 1959, Reed wed Kate Byrne. They had one son, Mark, before their divorce in 1969. While filming his part of Bill Sikes in Oliver!, he met one of the dancers hired for the film, the classically trained Jacquie Daryl. By the end of the film they were 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.

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. Reed claimed to have turned down major roles in two hugely successful Hollywood movies: The Sting (1973) (although he did appear in the sequel) and Jaws (1975). In the late 1970s Reed finally relocated to Guernsey as a tax exile.


Reed was famous for his excessive drinking, which fitted in with the "social" attitude of many rugby teams in the 1960s and 1970s, and there are numerous anecdotes 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 one bottle of Babycham. He subsequently revised the story, claiming he drank 106 pints of beer on a two-day binge before marrying Josephine; "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 had flown to the UK to discuss a film project with Reed and suggested the pair go to a nightclub in London. They ended up on a marathon pub crawl during which Reed vomited on McQueen. Reed's face had been scarred 10 years previously during a 1963 bar fight after which he received 63 stitches and was in danger of having his film career terminated in his 20s.

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. 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 was forced to leave 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." He was seemingly very drunk on the Michael Aspel chat show, to many highly entertaining, to others a waste of a great acting talent. However, author Cliff Goodwin, in his biography of Reed titled Evil Spirits, offers 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 December 1987 Reed 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 the High Street in Dorking, Surrey, not far from his home in Oakwoodhill. He had sold his larger house, 'Broome Hall', between the villages of Coldharbour and Ockley some years earlier.


Reed died of a sudden heart attack[3] during a break from filming Gladiator in Valletta, Malta on 2 May 1999. He was 61 years old and was reported to be heavily intoxicated at the time of his death. Several of his scenes in Gladiator had to be completed using CGI techniques and, in one place, a mannequin. His funeral was held in Churchtown, County Cork, Ireland. The song "Consider Yourself" from his classic film Oliver! was played at Oliver Reed's funeral. Reed was buried in the 13th-century cemetery in the heart of Churchtown village, where his grave is seeded with Irish wildflowers.

, ,

Selected filmography


  1. ^ Reed, Oliver (1979). Reed all about me: the autobiography of Oliver Reed. W. H. Allen. pp. 7. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Lasting Tribute UK

External links

Sources and notes

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Oliver Reed. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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