Date of Birth : Feb 13th 1937
Burly British actor Oliver Reed juggled over 60 film roles in 40 years and a full-blooded social life of women, booze, and bar fights, both of which became fodder for stories about one of England’s darker leading men and villainous character actors. After getting his start in cult monster movies from Hammer Studios, Reed forged a body of work most associated with acclaimed directors Ken Russell, Richard Lester, and Michael Winner, in which he was able to sidestep his typecasting as a brooding heavy. Reed remains one of the only prominent British thespians never to amass any stage work, making him a pure film actor.
Reed was born on February 13, 1938, in Wimbledon, England, a nephew of film director Sir Carol Reed (The Third Man). An antsy type given to partying with friends, Reed did not complete high school. He ended up taking on a variety of blue-collar jobs, including nightclub bouncer and hospital porter, and even a short career in pugilism. In 1960, he suddenly burst into films, showing up in the background of the Hammer films The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll and Sword of Sherwood Forest, and as a gay ballet dancer in The League of Gentlemen. His first starring role came with Hammer in 1961, as the title character in Curse of the Werewolf. Years later, he would serve as narrator on a full Hammer retrospective, putting his sonorous speaking voice to good use and paying homage to his roots. Such early work paved the way for a steady flow of bad-guy roles in horrors, costume dramas, and suspense thrillers. Reed’s intense, glowering features could also be manipulated for believable ethnic characterizations. Titles such as These Are the Damned and Pirates of Blood River (both 1962) followed. His first of six collaborations with Michael Winner came with The Girl Getters in 1966. In 1968, he won his first leading role in a universally well-received film, the Oscar-winner Oliver!, directed by his uncle, in which he played murderous thief Bill Sikes. Despite complaints of nepotism, Reed insisted he had to persuade his uncle to cast him, even though his credentials closely matched the needs of the part.
He died of a heart attack in a bar after downing three bottles of Captain Morgan’s Jamaica rum, eight bottles of German beer, numerous doubles of Famous Grouse whiskey, and beating five much younger Royal Navy sailors at arm-wrestling. His bar bill for that final lunch time totaled 270 Maltese lira, almost £450.