Originally printed on May 2, 1999 in the Family Announcements.
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Oliver Reed, the legendary drinker and "hell-raiser", met his end on 2 May, 1999 doing what he loved best — drinking in a bar with friends.
He died from a heart attack during a break from filming Gladiator in Valletta, Malta, after a long session at the bar where he beat five Royal Navy sailors at arm wrestling.
In later life Oliver Reed was better known as a bon vivant than an actor and was often irritated that his appearances on television chat shows concentrated on his drinking feats rather than his latest film.
Robert Oliver Reed was born in Wimbledon, on 13 February, 1938, the son of sports journalist Peter Reed and his wife Marcia (née Andrews). He was also nephew of film director Sir Carol Reed, and grandson of the actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm.
Mr Reed’s schooling was private and full of incident: he was dyslexic and was expelled from many schools. At Ewell Castle School he proved himself a sportsman and at sports day won many cups. He celebrated his success with a party and on his way home in the early hours he was briefly detained by police who thought he was a burglar with a haul of stolen silver.
Mr Reed had no acting training or theatrical experience, but he had good contacts and in the late 1950s gained several roles in Hammer films - The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Paranoiac (1963). In 1965 appeared in Ken Russell’s biopic of Claude Debussy, after which came his infamous role in Women in Love (1969), in which he wrestled naked with Alan Bates in front of a log fire.
He worked twice more with Mr Russell - The Devils (1971) based on Aldous Huxley’s novel, and the 1975 musical Tommy, based on The Who’s concept album and starring its lead singer Roger Daltrey.
His most famous breakthrough role, however, was his memorable performance as Bill Sikes in his uncle Carol Reed’s 1968 screen version of the hit musical Oliver! It was a gift of a part: the burglar Sikes’s wickedness positively shone through.
Mr Reed's confidence was infectious. He told one reporter: “Destroy me and you destroy the British film industry. Keep me going and I’m the biggest star you’ve got. I’m Mr England.”
He certainly destroyed the American view of English matinee idols star as bland fops - he was becoming Britain ’s answer to Errol Flynn, and his name was linked with a number of his co-stars, including Faye Dunaway, Susan George, Jill St John and Sarah Miles.
Mr Reed married twice, first to Irish model, Kathleen Byrne in 1960. The marriage ended 10 years later. They had a son, Mark and he had a daughter with the ballet dancer Jacquie Daryl. He married again in 1985, Josephine Burge, 27 years his junior. She vowed at the time to halt his drinking, and succeeded... briefly. Two years later Mr Reed stopped when doctors warned him that he had only two years to live if he continued.
But he started drinking again when, he said, “I realised what a bore I was becoming.”
Yet he stayed in work: his powerful screen personality remained despite the drinking bouts.
His second marriage was happy although they remained childless.
His last film was Gladiator - and a body double was added with computer assistance to the role he could never complete.