15 Things You Genuinely Didn’t Know About Oliver Reed.

Oliver Reed died from a heart attack on May 2nd 1999 while – true to form - drinking with his wife and friends in a bar in Malta. A little over a year later, we’re finally getting the chance to witness Reed’s final acting role, as Maximus’ trainer, in Ridley Scott’s much anticipated Gladiator. In a career that spanned over 40 years, and 60 films, Reed was once described as “Always word perfect and unfailingly courteous to colleagues and technicians”. However, despite being famous for his professional behaviour among colleagues, it was Reed’s notoriety as one of this country’s finest hellraisers for which most will remember him. Bubblegun is happy to add further fuel to fire of Ollie’s legend.

  1. Where Oliver Reed went, controversy would follow. Starring in Ken Russell’s Women in Love - the first English speaking commercial film to feature full frontal male nudity – Reed famously wrestled naked with Alan Bates. Reed also starred in the first film to include the word “fuck” (I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name), as well as the first British film to be rated X due to its violent content (Sitting Target).

  2. According to Ken Russell, the aforementioned homo-erotic wrestling scene was not actually included in the original script, due to his feeling that the censors of the time would not allow it to pass. Hearing this, Reed was none too pleased, and apparently demonstrated his displeasure by wrestling Russell to the floor in his kitchen, and pinning him to the ground until he agreed to include it…

  3. For the nude wrestling, Reed admitted to considering “a fiddle” in order to “enhance” his performance. However, after much deliberation, Reed simply challenged Bates to “get it out” in order to dispel any differences between the two actor’s cocks. Upon doing so, the pair decided there wasn’t much in it either way, and filmed the scene sans manipulation.

  4. While on the subject of Reed’s ‘Mighty Mallet’ – as he liked to call it – during the seventies, Reed became famed for his ‘party trick’ which, consisted of him exposing the thespian twig and berries, in order to proudly display the ‘bird-claw’ tattoo that adorned them.

  5. Apparently, police were once called to a remote rural location close to Reed’s home in the early hours of the morning, due to complaints that a number of naked men had been seen running across fields. The naked men were a rugby team who Reed had spent the evening entertaining. Having consumed vast quantities of alcohol, the whole lot of them stripped off and went for a run through the fields surrounding Reed’s house, their muscled white buttocks probably glistening in the moonlight.

  6. Due to his notorious public appearances while under the influence, Reed became forever synonymous with alcohol. It was alleged that during the stag weekend prior to his second marriage (to long time sweetheart Josephine, in 1985) Reed downed an unhealthy 104 pints of beer. However, Reed was quick to dispel this rumour: “The event that was reported actually took place during an arm-wrestling competition in Guernsey about 15 years ago.”

  7. Reed was also famed for his various public-feuds and opinions concerning certain well-known celebrities, among them Shelley Winters, Lee Marvin, Richard Harris, and Jack Nicholson. During an interview, when asked about Jack Nicholson, Reed once stated: “Nicholson? As far as I’m concerned, he’s a balding midget. He stands five-foot-seven, you know. He tries to play heavies and doesn’t quite make it.”

  8. Reed’s comments concerning long time adversary and fellow hellraiser, Richard Harris, were also often amusing: “…Even though people say Richard Harris and I have been having a great feud, it’s not true. After all, how could be feuding for years? I’d never heard of him until two weeks ago.
    “Raquel Welch is someone I can also live without. We’ve got some love scenes together and I am dreading them! I cabled Richard Harris to see if he wanted to be my stand-in for those scenes. With his toupee and her falsies they would be perfect for each other…”

  9. Lee Marvin, describing his first encounter with Reed, said: “I was expecting to meet up with this actor who was supposed to be Britain’s hellraiser, and what do I see but this tailor’s dummy in a pinstripe suit looking more like a fucking banker”.
    Reed, during his infamous 80s appearance on The David Letterman Show, continued the feud by pretending to forget Marvin’s surname, and claimed to have “screwed Marvin at drinking” during a drinking competition that allegedly took place between the pair.

  10. During the same show, Reed also caused David Letterman to lose his footing by pulling him forward during their greeting handshake; punctuated the interview by adopting an American accent, pointing at the camera and claiming “I’m after you, Stallone”; replied to Letterman’s questions in German; spoke nonsense claiming he was a fisherman who wore boots in his ears; took the piss out of Letterman’s nose by pressing his own down in imitation; and removed his glasses and stared Letterman down, forcing Letterman to plead to band leader, Paul Schaffer to accompany him.
    In fact, on both sides of the Atlantic, Reed became well known for his “performances” on chat shows. On The Merv Griffin Show in the 70s, Reed sat listening attentively whilst Griffin reeled off some anecdote about Peter O’Toole in order to illustrate the temperamental nature of English actors. After enduring the entire story, Reed sat forward and, quite politely, pointed out that O’Toole was in fact Irish, and not English. More famously still, he once asked perma-tanned British talk show host Richard Madley why he had “orange skin”.

  11. During his first appearance on The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson watched on in horror as Shelly Winters – reacting to Reed’s somewhat misogynistic comments – poured a drink over Reed’s head. When later quizzed about the incident, Reed stated: “My row with Shelly Winters was caused by her abominable lack of manners. She is getting old now and I think she is quite crazy.”
    In fact, Reed’s outspoken views on women often landed him in trouble. Once prompted about the fairer sex, Reed stated: “American men like their women to have these special teeth and be perfectly coiffured and have amazing breasts. Have you seen an Italian mama with those kinds of teeth, that kind of hair, and that kind of waist? They’re not like that. They’re in the kitchen cooking for their families – doing what they should do… I believe my woman shouldn’t work outside the home”.
    However, despite such vocal opinions on the subject, Reed did show some elements of compromise: “I also use women as a sex object; maybe I’m kinky. However, I like to talk to them as well.”

  12. It could never have been considered a good idea for Channel 4 to have invited Reed to a late night, serious debate programme involving a panel of toffs and one lesbian feminist discussing male violence on TV. Quizzed afterwards about his experience – which resulted in him being ejected from the studio – Reed agreed that he “might” have told the feminist that he had had more fights in pubs than “you’ve had hot dinners”, before kissing her, quite uninvited, on the lips.

  13. Reed – who once asked, “I like the effect drink has on me. What’s the point of staying sober?” – realised, upon his arrival at Galway airport, Ireland, while lying drunk on the baggage conveyor, that he was slowly killing himself with his constant alcohol binges. He tried to make amends for his past behaviour, which included spiking snooker star Alex Higgins’ whisky with Chanel perfume. Higgins reacted by squirting washing-up liquid in Reed’s crème de menthe.

  14. Reed passed away prematurely, while filming Scott’s Gladiator in Malta. His role was completed by means of placing a CGI replica of Reed’s head onto a body double, comprised of various “jigsaw-like” pieces of filming that Reed had completed. Scott admits that it was his intention to provide Reed’s screen career with a fitting end by having had him utter the final line of the film. However, after much trial and error, Scott was forced to abandon the idea due to the lack of useable footage.

  15. Reed’s views on the subject of death were relatively well documented (and before he died he arranged to have £10,000 out of his estate spent at his local pub, but only for “those who are crying”). Discussing potential body-disposal methods, Reed refuted the deep-freeze method adopted by those such as “rich Americans like Walt Disney”. 
    Also slated was the idea of him being laid out for days in his Sunday best in order to “have people gawping at me to see what a dead hellraiser looks like”, as was  cremation, as was burial due to his disgust at “maggots having a ball crawling up my nose and out of my mouth”, and burial at sea: “Who wants to be gobbled up by a big fish and become excrement that is swallowed up by a prawn… ending up as mayonnaise, being nibbled at by a pretty girl… I don’t want to be permanent shit.’”
    Reed’s ideal form of post-life disposal? “I would much rather end up a fertiliser under a sunflower which is eventually made into sunflower seed oil so that instead of nibbling me in her prawn cocktail, the pretty girl will rub me on her bristols as she suns herself on a beach in the Caribbean”. Gawd bless you, Oliver Reed.

Gladiator goes on general release May 12th throughout the UK.  

David Harrison

Robert Oliver Reed
13 Feb 38

Wimbledon, UK

2 May 1999
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