Movie Hero of the Week! – Oliver Reed*

First let me tell you how the man died – (I’m quoting IMDB here) “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.”

Okay, so that’s a general idea of what we’re dealing with, here. Also, that occurred during the filming of Gladiator, which caused Ridley Scott some problems.

He was rude. He was drunk. He was obstinate. He was a masogenist. He was everything I loathe in a person. And yet…the combination of ALL those things? Incredibly alluring. What can I say? I’m full of multitudes. He’s famous for saying, “My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.” But God help him, he tried.

I first bumped into Oliver Reed when watching Oliver! when I was little. He played Bill Sykes, and judging from what I’ve read, it wasn’t a challenge. Other than Gladiator, that was about all I had seen Mr. Reed in, until a couple weeks ago. I watched the movie Burnt Offerings starring Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis (with a wonderfully creepy Burgess Meredith on the side.) I thought, “oooOOO. Who is this smashtastically tan man with piercing blue eyes, a pectoral area you just don’t see in movies anymore, and one of the most beautiful and manly speaking voices I’ve ever heard?” I was expecting to see this man was knighted and who’s hobby was drinking sherry and talking about Shakespeare. So when I bumped into this little tidbit, “In 1973 Steve McQueen flew to England to meet Reed and discuss a possible film collaboration. “Reed showed me his country mansion and we got on well,” recalled McQueen. “He then suggested he take me to his favorite London nightclub.” The drinking, which started at Reed’s home, Broome Hall, continued into the night until Reed could hardly stand. Suddenly, and with no apparent warning, he vomited over McQueen’s shirt and trousers. “The staff rushed around and found me some new clothes, but they couldn’t get me any shoes,” said McQueen. “I had to spend the rest of the night smelling of Oliver Reed’s sick.” You can imagine I was a bit surprised. And intrigued.

He even starred in the first movie to drop the f-bomb, not to mention a notorious homo-erotic wrestling scene. He’s the Anti-Richard Burton. Looks like him, sounds like him, drinks like him, and yet…

Well, let’s just say I think Liz would have cracked him across the jaw. But then she probably did to Burton, too. So who the hell knows what my point is.

I guess my point is that he was The Ultimate Bad Boy. Russell Crowe and his ilk can try, but they’ll never match, because frankly they would die of alcohol poisoning before they could get there.

So in honor of Mr. Reed, I’ve added – The Brood, The Assassination Bureau and Tommy. (Just as soon as The Three Musketeers releases, I’m adding that too.)

Here’s one of the more heart-warming tidbits about Mr. Reed: Lawnmower racing owes its origins in part to actor Oliver Reed who, at an inaugural event lost control of his machine and demolished the VIP toilet tent, fortunately without injury to either driver or occupant – “luckily, dear boy, because we were both seated at the time.”

I only have one request: that someone film the story of his life. And that Eddie Izzard play him.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the filmmaking community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

** Yes. He really looks like Will in that first picture.


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