Oliver Reed: What Fresh Lunacy Is This? by Robert Sellers
I’ve been aware of Oliver Reed since my earliest memories of researching movies. This probably stems from going to the library and trying to learn more about the horror films I had yet to see and coming across photos of him in The Curse of the Werewolf from Hammer Films. That put him on my radar. Then came the late night movies including The Three Musketeers and Crossed Swords. That confirmed it. I need to see more movies with this solid, intimidating force. Looking back I think the first autobiography I read was his while I was still in high school titled Reed All About Me. Still have the pocket novel edition.
Like many I am all too aware of Reed’s off set exploits and fall from grace in the film world. This recent book from writer Robert Sellers does a wonderful job at allowing us to see both the gentle side and the self destructive one in Ollie’s character. I was never bored with this biography which isn’t always the case. It’s so easy to focus on the drunken tales and there are plenty here. Despite the fact that when you stop and think about them, they are kind of sad yet I still laughed at many of them. Some are just so ridiculous it’s hard not to. I mean who wouldn’t have wanted to see him tangle on set with Klaus Kinski. Needling at him when they filmed the thriller Venom. Admittedly from a safe distance.
On the flip side the book is well researched and it’s a wonderful tribute that so many of those who knew and worked with him have many fond memories of a gentle man who was nothing short of professional on set. The book was written with the cooperation of many family members as well as actors and filmmakers he worked with who offer up their recollections of working with the well known hell raiser.
Despite all the bizarre self destructive stories it’s refreshing to know that the author still tells of the sober times and how Oliver liked his quiet moments in the gardens, his pets and his love of Broome Hall. Then there was the patriotic Oliver who for years refused to abandon his homeland. It seemed that once you were a friend and admitted to his inner circle there was nothing Oliver wouldn’t do for you.
Nice quote in the book from his daughter Sarah. “He never really grew up. He was the Peter Pan of hell raisers.”
For film fans the book also serves as a window to many of the top productions that Reed worked on and his famous associations with both Michael Winner and Ken Russell.
Despite his slumming in films far beneath him towards the end it’s nice to know he left us with both a winning film in Gladiator worthy of his talents and to a certain extent on his own shield. In a pub after a few pints.
When Gladiator came out in 2000 my only reason for going at the time was because it had both Reed and fellow retired hell raiser Richard Harris. Had Reed straightened up and gotten himself back into the A budget lists who knows? He may have wound up in the LOTR series or found a place amongst the Harry Potter cast. Surely he would have fit right in somewhere.
No matter what the film or real life story, to me Oliver Reed was never boring.