Nationality: British. Born: Robert Oliver Reed in Wimbledon, Surrey, 13 February 1938; the nephew of the director Carol Reed. Family: Married 1) Kate Byrne, two children; 2) Josephine Burge, 1985. Career: Worked as nightclub bouncer, boxer, and cab driver; military service in the Medical Corps; 1960—film debut in The Angry Silence ; 1968–69—roles in Oliver! and Women in Love brought critical attention; 1993—in TV mini-series Return to Lonesome Dove . Died: 2 May 1999 in Valletta, Malta, of heart attack.
The Angry Silence (Green) (as Mick); The League of Gentlemen (Dearden); The Bulldog Breed (Asher); Beat Girl ( Wild for Kicks ) (Greville) (as Plaid Shirt); Sword of Sherwood Forest (Fisher) (as Melton); The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll ( House of Fright ) (Fisher)
His and Hers (Hurst) (as Poet); The Curse of the Werewolf (Fisher) (as Leon); The Rebel ( Call Me Genius ) (Day); No Love for Johnnie (Thomas)
The Damned ( These Are the Damned ) (Losey) (as King); The Pirates of Blood River (Gilling) (as Brocaire); Captain Clegg ( Night Creatures ) (Scott) (as Harry Crabtree)
Paranoiac (Francis) (as Simon Ashby); The Scarlet Blade (Gilling) (as Capt. Sylvester); The Party's Over (Hamilton)(as Moise)
The System ( The Girl Getters ) (Winner) (as Tinker)
The Brigand of Kandahar (Gilling) (as Eli Khan)
The Trap (Hayers) (as Jean La Bete); The Jokers (Winner)
The Shuttered Room (Greene) (as Ethan); Dante's Inferno: The Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Russell—for TV) (title role); I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name (Winner) (asAndrew Quint)
Oliver! (Carol Reed) (as Bill Sykes)
The Assassination Bureau (Dearden) (as Ivan Dragomiloff); Hannibal Brooks (Winner) (as Brooks); Women in Love (Russell) (as Geral Crich)
La Dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil ( The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun ) (Litvak) (as Michael Caldwell); Take a Girl Like You (Miller) (Patrick)
The Devils (Russell) (as Father Grandier); The Hunting Party (Medford) (as Frank Calder)
Z.P.G. (Campus) (as Russ McNeil); Sitting Target (Hickox)(as Harry Lomart); Mordi e fuggi ( Dirty Weekend ; Bite and Run ) (Risi) (as Fabrizio)
Blue Blood (Sinclair); Triple Echo (Apted) (as Sergeant); Il giorno del furore ( Days of Fury ; One Russian Summer )(Calenda)
The Three Musketeers (Lester) (as Athos)
The Four Musketeers (Lester) (as Athos); Tommy (Russell)(as Frank Hobbs); Ten Little Indians (Collinson) (as HughLombard); Royal Flash (Lester) (as Bismark)
The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (Taylor) (as Joe Knox); Burnt Offerings (Curtis) (as Ben); Blood in the Streets ( The Revolver ) (Sollima) (as Vito Caprini); The Sell Out (Collinson) (as Gabriel Lee)
The Big Sleep (Winner) (as Eddie Mars); Crossed Swords ( The Prince and the Pauper ) (Fleischer) (as Miles Hender-son); Tomorrow Never Comes (Collinson) (as Wilson); Maniac ( Assault on Paradise ; The Town That Cried Terror ) (Compton) (as Nick McCormick)
The Class of Miss MacMichael (Narizzano) (as Terence Sutton); The Brood (Cronenberg) (as Dr. Hal Raglan)
Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype (Griffith) (title role)
Condorman (Jarrott) (as Krokov); Lion of the Desert (Akkad)(as Gen. Rodolfo Graziani)
Venom (Haggard) (as Dave); Death Bite ( Spasms ) (Fruet) (as Jason Kincaid)
Two of a Kind (Herzfeld) (as Beazley); The Sting II (Kagan)(as Lonnegan); Fanny Hill (O'Hara); The Great Question ( Al Mas à la Al Kubra ) (Jameel)
Captive (Mayerberg) (as Gregory Le Vay); Castaway (Roeg)(as Gerald Kingsland)
Wheels of Terror (Hessler) (as the General)
Dragonard ( Master of Dragonard Hill ) (Kikoine); Captive Rage (Sundstrom) (as Gen. Belmondo); Skeleton Coast (Cardos) (as Capt. Simpson); The House of Usher (Birkinshaw) (as Roderick Usher)
The Adventures of Baron Münchausen (Gilliam) (as Vulcan); Rage to Kill (Winters); The Return of the Musketeers (Lester) (as Athos); A Ghost in Monte Carlo (Hough—for TV); Gor (Kiersch) (as Sarm)
Treasure Island (Fraser C. Heston—for TV) (as Captain BillyBones); Panama Sugar and the Dog Thief (Avallone)
Army (Santostefano); The Pit and the Pendulum (Gordon) (as Cardinal); Prisoner of Honor (Russell—for TV) (as Gen.Boisdeffre); Hired to Kill (Mastorakis) (as Michael Bartos)
Severed Ties (Santostefano and Roberts) (as Dr. Hans Vaughan)
Funny Bones (Chelsom) (as Dolly Hopkins)
The Bruce (as Bishop Robert Wishart)
Parting Shots (Winner) (as Jamie Campbell-Stewart); Marco Polo (Erschbamer); The Incredible Adventures of Marco Polo ; Jeremiah (Winer—for TV) (General Safan)
Gladiator (Scott) (Proximo)
Read All about Me (autobiography), London, 1979.
Interview in Arena (London), Spring 1992.
D'Arcy, Susan, The Films of Oliver Reed , London, 1975.
Ecran (Paris), December 1979.
Ramirez, Anthony, "Oliver Reed, Diverse Actor for Film and TV, Dies at 61," in The New York Times , 3 May 1999.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 10 May 1999.
"Rogue Trip: Boisterous and Bibulous to the Very End, Actor Oliver Reed Enjoyed a Famously Spirited Life," in People Weekly , vol. 51, no. 18, 17 May 1999.
Time International , 17 May 1999.
Lucas, Tim, "A Toast to Mr. England," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 35, no. 4, July 1999.
* * *
Time and more than his fair share of bad films have tended to relegate Oliver Reed to the status of a washed-up middle-aged actor whose early promise has expired under a morass of inferior work. Certainly his appearances in the grisly, post- Wild Bunch splatter Western The Hunting Party , the snake-on-the-loose horror thriller Venom , and the comic book Condorman offered little opportunity for him to reveal either talent or screen presence. Yet there is nothing to be gained from merely pointing to Reed's long list of bad films and dismissing him on this basis. Nor would it be justified. From his first starring role in Terence Fisher's The Curse of the Werewolf to collaborations with Richard Lester and, especially, Ken Russell, with whom Reed's tempestuous nature formed an ideal match, Oliver Reed exhibits at his best a powerful screen persona which bad films have tarnished but not destroyed completely.
Cast early on as a thug or teddy boy in several British kitchen sink and juvenile delinquency dramas, Reed had his first major role as the title character in Curse for Hammer Films (he had had a small part as a bouncer in the same studio's The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll , also directed by Terence Fisher, released the previous year). Parts in other of the studio's horror and action thrillers quickly followed, most notably the scenery-chewing psycho in Paranoiac . His career advanced considerably when he met Ken Russell, for whom he starred as the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Russell's BBC biopic Dante's Inferno . Their association continued with Russell's breakthrough film, Women in Love , in which Reed co-starred, through several other Russell extravaganzas ( Mahler , Lisztomania ) in which the actor took cameos. Reed had his biggest success as the murderous Bill Sikes in Oliver! , the film adaptation of the hit musical based on Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist . The director, Carol Reed, was his uncle, who, detesting nepotism, declined considering his nephew for the part; the latter won it entirely on his own by auditioning. He has worked steadily since, but has never quite achieved the star status Oliver! so auspiciously hinted at.
A comparison of several of Reed's major roles apart from Sikes, but certainly not excluding it—Leon in Curse , Grandier in The Devils , and Athos in The Three Musketeers / The Four Musketeers —provides some insight into his success. In the case of the first, we have a man torn between a desire for love and a destructive animal rage which eventually overcomes and destroys him. Romance in the form of Christina (Catherine Feller) can conquer his werewolf side but circumstances tear them apart. Grandier is a priest who sees no contradiction between his clerical vows and the pursuit of physical pleasure. This "immoral" man becomes the most moral of all when he takes a lone and fatal stand against the government figures who wish to destroy the independence of the city of Loudon. Athos, who drinks and fights with no regard for public opinion or his own safety, is also a nobleman whose genuine love for a harlot, Milady (Faye Dunaway), lost him his honor. In all three cases Reed skillfully conveys the contradictions inherent in the characters—quiet introspection alternating with harsh violence.
It is true that Reed cannot on his own redeem a mediocre film, but then it is difficult to think of any actor who could have salvaged anything from Z.P.G. , Tomorrow Never Comes , or Sting II (where Reed took the part created by Robert Shaw). He often seems uncaring in his choice of roles. But he clearly knows a good project when it comes along (he told David Cronenberg that The Brood was the best script he had read since The Devils ).
It is encouraging, however, that recent supporting roles such as Vulcan in Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Münchausen , Billy Bones in Fraser Heston's version of Treasure Island , and the wry, drunken priest in Stuart Gordon's Russell homage, The Pit and the Pendulum , have brought him the praise he often deserves.
—Daniel O'Brien, updated by John McCarty