Throughout his life, Oliver Reed was known as much for his drunken exploits as for his roles in films like Oliver! No wonder: In 1973, in an all-too-typical display, he inexplicably stripped in the middle of dinner at a Madrid hotel and leaped into a huge tank filled with goldfish.
Reed, 61, spent the final moments of his life doing what he loved best—drinking in a bar. On May 2 at a pub in Malta, where he was working on the film Gladiator, Reed suddenly suffered an apparent heart attack. “He was one of those great spirits,” says actor Michael York. “I’m sure Oliver Reed stories will abound and be celebrated through the centuries.”
Born in Wimbledon, England, Reed worked as a boxer and strip-club bouncer before his uncle, director Carol Reed, cast him as villainous Bill Sikes in 1968’s Oliver! Two years later, Reed’s then-shocking nude wrestling scene in Women in Love cemented his acting future, and he went on to costar in 1974’s The Three Musketeers and ’75’s Tommy, among his roughly 70 films.
Reed had two children, Mark, 38 (with model Kate Byrne, his wife from 1960 to ’70), and Sarah, 29 (with dancer Jacquie Daryl, his ’70s companion). In 1980, at 42, he began dating Josephine Burge, then 16. Their 1985 marriage lasted until his death, but Reed never mellowed. In January, he was arrested in England after a drunken brawl. “In 10 years,” he said in 1995, “I will be wondering whether or not I’ve got to apologize for my behavior last night…still.”