Renowned for his larger-than-life personality and notorious bouts of heavy drinking, the legacy of Oliver Reed is as much a tale of dramatic on-screen presence as it is a captivating off-screen saga of wild and reckless drinking stories.
1. He Was A Hellraiser
Oliver Reed came from relatively normal roots, with no formal acting training, and became one of the most highly recognized British actors of his time. While his filmography was vast and impressive, he was perhaps best known for the reckless, rough persona he took on after he downed a couple of drinks.
Throughout his life, his drinking and recklessness became even more uncontrollable.
2. He Had An Ordinary Upbringing
Robert Oliver Reed was born on February 13, 1938 at in London, to Peter Reed, a sports journalist, and Marcia. His childhood was nothing out of the ordinary—but that didn’t stop Reed from creating his own story, and a much grander one at that. He once claimed to have been a descendant of Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia.
Though his early years might have been mundane, at the age of nine, his life was forever altered.
3. He Was A Problem Child
Reed’s parents sent him off to boarding school—which quickly proved to be a miserable experience. He struggled with reading, writing and math due to his undiagnosed dyslexia. The consequences were brutal. He was expelled from 14 different schools. Luckily, Reed was blessed with athletic prowess and was able to stay afloat on top of the boarding school food chain by becoming a thug.
“Bully Boy Reed, a swaggering Jack the Lad,” was how he referred to himself. And even after his school years, Reed found himself bouncing from place to place.
4. He Loved All Things Army
Reed had found that he even if he couldn’t make good grades, he could thrive in a male-dominated environment—and so naturally, he joined the army. Unfortunately, his dyslexia prevented him from working his way up the ranks. Regardless, Reed was a loyal and dedicated serviceman, even volunteering his service later in life.
During this time, Reed met many other young, aspiring actors, piquing his interest in the industry. Soon, the troubled adult would find his calling.
5. He Got His First Big Role
Oliver Reed decided to give acting a try—but he wasn’t exactly an overnight sensation. After years of toiling in uncredited roles, he got his first big break, and his first named role. He played Richard of Gloucester in the six-part BBC TV series The Golden Spur in 1959.
This was a big deal for Reed—however, it didn’t seem to help his career as much as he thought.
6. He Finally Landed A Leading Role
It took three more years before Reed made the transition from a big role in TV to a big role in film. In 1962, he was cast in the Hammer horror film The Curse of the Werewolf as a troubled lycanthrope. The film was a hit and Reed was finally getting some recognition in his acting career.
The role would lead to greater success in his acting career—and with fame, came women.
7. He Had A Normal Marriage
Oliver Reed was a charming young man with an up-and-coming career—he had no problem in his dating life. But in the 1950s, he met one woman who would stop him in his tracks. She was beautiful Irish model named Kate Byrne and they met on the set of a Cadbury's Milk Tray ad. In 1959, they got married.
The happy couple then took the next big step in their relationship.
8. He Was A Distant Father
Kate got pregnant and in 1961, gave birth to their son, Mark. Later on in life, Mark remembered his father as a “very mannered, intelligent, shy individual”. Unfortunately, Reed wasn’t the best father. “It was a fragmented upbringing,” said Mark about his father. “He spent a lot of time away”.
Reed and Byrne were married for many years but eventually, the cracks began to show.
9. He Repeated The Cycle
The distance—both physical and emotional—became too much, and in 1970, Reed and Byrne divorced after 10 years of marriage. It was then that Reed made a heartbreaking decision. In a move that mirrored his own childhood, Reed sent his son off to boarding school and only saw him during the holidays.
And when they were together, it wasn’t exactly the normal father-son bonding.
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10. He Didn’t Know How To Be A Father
Once, in 1975, Reed flew Mark out on a private jet to Mexico where he was filming with another hard-partying Hollywood star, Lee Marvin. After Mark arrived, Reed handed his son drink after drink until Mark got so sick that at 3 in the morning, he puked into Reed’s cowboy boots. Marvin said to him: “Ollie, you need to leave your boots standing up in the west”.
Reed soon became known for his heavy drinking habits.
11. He Hit The Clubs With A Celebrity
In one infamous story, Reed had met up with American movie star Steve McQueen, who flew to the UK to discuss a film. Reed ended up suggesting to Steve that the two of them hit up a London nightclub—and the night escalated quickly. The two actors ended up embarking on a marathon pub crawl.
Before long, Reed was throwing up all over his new drinking buddy. And that wasn’t the only story of Reed making a mess…
12. He Puked On A Waiter
In another incident at a restaurant in Malta, Irish actor Gabriel Byrne witnessed Reed commit the ultimate party foul. He grabbed a cobwebbed bottle of wine that had been in the host’s family cellar for more than 100 years and chugged it down in one go. The host, humiliated, couldn’t even watch as Reed proceeded to empty the bottle and puke all over the waiter.
Reed’s drinking habits weren’t isolated however—he had a slew of celebrity lads who joined him on his escapades.
13. He Was A Rock Star’s Drinking Buddy
Oliver Reed ended up becoming a close friend and drinking partner of The Who's drummer Keith Moon in the 1970s, when the two worked together on a film. They were both reckless, wild drinkers with a taste for danger, and both modeled themselves after the hellraising, binge-drinking actor Robert Newton.
Unsurprisingly, Reed’s recklessness led him into some dicey situations throughout his life.
14. He Got Into It At A Nightclub
In 1964, Reed was enjoying himself at the Crazy Elephant nightclub when he got into an argument at the bar with a couple of men. They exchanged some heated words, but then the situation luckily seemed to end there. However, Reed wasn’t done yet. As he left, he muttered a dismissive remark to the group.
What happened next would leave a permanent mark in Reed’s life…
15. He Was Ambushed
The men he had argued with at the bar weren’t over it. They waited until Reed went to the bathroom, followed him inside and then viciously ambushed him with broken bottles. Luckily, Reed didn’t suffer any serious injuries—but he did have to get 63 stitches on one side of his face.
Though Reed may have seemed tough, the incident disturbed him deeply.
16. He Was Left Scarred
Reed was deeply scarred from the bar fight—both physically and mentally. He was left with permanent scarring on his face and initially thought his film career was over. According to his brother, after the attack, whenever he was arguing, Reed would raise his hands up in a defensive manner, which actually intimidated many men.
And Reed didn’t just find himself in dangerous situations in his real life—he also found himself in violent situations on set.
17. He Was Dangerous On Set
Oliver Reed found himself in more diverse roles as his career progressed. He starred in the 1973 swashbuckler film The Three Musketeers as Athos, one of the titular musketeers. Reed fully embodied his role as a fearless, skilled swordsman, so much so that during the filming, his co-star Christopher Lee described him as "a menace" when armed with a sword.
However, a terrible incident soon unfolded on set.
18. He Almost Lost His Life During Filming
Reed was filming a duel scene for The Three Musketeers when disaster struck. He was severely injured and almost lost his life when he was accidentally stabbed in the throat. In the same film, he also got pierced in the hand.
Fortunately, Reed survived the freak incident and was able to continue his acting career.
19. He Was An Actor Of Many Firsts
Oliver Reed’s acting career included some unconventional firsts of the film industry. He was an ambitious actor who had no qualms when it came to pushing the status quo. His wrestling scene with Alan Bates in Women in Love (1969) was the first shot of full frontal male nudity in a mainstream movie.
He also starred in the first film to say the f-word, as well as the first British film to be rated X solely for the violent content. Reed proved to be a multiskilled actor—despite his personal troubles.
20. He Was An Industry Titan
Before long, Oliver Reed became a household name in British films, and was at one point, the highest-paid actor in Britain. Reed wasn’t subtle about his fame—he famously told a Daily Express journalist in 1974, "Get rid of me and you get rid of the entire British film industry".
As his career progressed, he soon crossed paths with one of his famous relatives.
21. He Was Accused Of Nepotism
Reed had avoided working with his famous director uncle, Sir Carol Reed, for most of his career but he finally gave in and went after a part in his uncle’s film Oliver!, a 1968 musical drama film based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. Many complained of nepotism but according to Reed, he had to persuade his uncle to consider him for the role of antagonist Bill Sikes.
Reed had to audition and screen test for the part like any other actor. His talents didn’t lie, and Reed landed the coveted part. But his time on his uncle’s set wasn’t without its controversies.
22. He Scared Children
On set, Reed was dedicated to playing the role of villain—and he went to extreme lengths. Reed stayed in characters as Bill Sikes the entire time, which left the children on set absolutely terrified of him throughout the production. In the end, his dedication was worth it.
Oliver! went on to win numerous awards and was one of Reed’s biggest films. However, Reed found even more success beyond his career’s success during his time working on Oliver!
23. He Fell In Love With A Dancer
During the filming of Oliver!, Oliver Reed met Jacquie Daryl, a classically trained dancer who appeared in the film. The two hit it off immediately and soon became lovers. They even ended up having a daughter together, Sarah. Sadly, the passion of the new romance didn’t last.
The pair ended things—and Reed’s next lover was a big shock to all.
24. He Found A New Love
In 1980, Oliver Reed had stopped off for a quick pint at a local pub when Josephine Burge caught a glance of Reed’s fancy car parked outside. Burge and her friends popped in to see who it was, and began chatting with Reed. The girls then began to regularly visit the pub after school to catch glimpses of Reed and chat with him if they got the chance.
It became clear that Burge and Reed were more than interested in each other. There was just one problem.
25. He Courted A Teenager
Reed and Burge soon realized their feelings for each other—but while Reed was 42 years old, Burge was just 16. Regardless, Reed pursued her in a “old-fashioned” way, as he described it. He invited her and her friends to come over to his home, followed by dinner dates, always with one of Burge siblings in attendance.
Burge was smitten with the older man, and eventually, they made a huge decision.
26. He Married A Woman 26 Years Younger Than Him
Early in their relationship, the two had decided they wanted to marry each other one day. However, Reed insisted they wait five years so Burge could be absolutely sure she loved him, and that her feelings weren’t just a teenage crush.
As promised, five years later in 1985, the two got married. However, the honeymoon period was short.
27. His Drinking Made Headlines Again
Reed may have been on his best behavior while he courted Burge—but his dark side soon emerged again. Reed’s boozing got even more intense. In one infamous incident, Reed and a large group of friends managed to finish 60 gallons of ale, 32 bottles of scotch, 17 bottles of other booze, four crates of wine, and a bottle of Babycham.
However, Reed claimed that common retellings of this story weren't exactly true.
28. He Drank Heavily Before His Second Marriage
Reed claimed that reports of that incident in the 1980s were false. He said that he had actually drank 106 pints of ale over a two-day drinking spree before his wedding with Burge. The incident reported in the papers, he claimed, had actually taken place 15 years prior during an arm-wrestling competition in Guernsey.
Reed’s wild drinking stories didn’t end there however.
29. He Was Apprehended
Oliver Reed’s recklessness caught up with him a number of times. In October 1981, Reed was apprehended in Vermont for disturbing the peace while inebriated. He went to trial and was acquitted, however, he pleaded no contest to two assault charges and ended up paying $1,200 in fines.
That wasn’t the only time he got into some trouble with the law…
30. He Was Sued For Injuring A Coworker
Reed was once again tied up in some trouble with the law in 1993, when he was sued by his former stuntman and friend Reg Prince. Reed had pushed Reg off a balcony while filming for the 1986 movie Castaway, breaking his back and ending his career in film.
The lawsuit was unsuccessful. Reed’s drinking habits brought out a violent side of him, and many began to notice.
31. He Became A “Monster” When He Drank
Sir Christopher Lee, a good friend of Reed’s who had worked with him on The Three Musketeers, described Reed as a “complete monster” after drink number eight. “It was awful to see,” said Lee. Among his many famous incidents, Reed had also apparently urinated on other country’s flags and spiked people’s drinks for fun.
Reed had obviously cultivated quite the reputation for excessive drinking—but he wasn’t too happy about it.
32. He Arrived To A TV Set Inebriated
In one incident, Oliver Reed had to leave the set of a Channel 4 TV discussion program, After Dark, after arriving on set after one too many drinks. Once he got to the set, Reed tried to kiss feminist writer Kate Millett, and apparently said to her, “Give us a kiss”.
This wasn’t the only time Reed had embarrassing run-ins with women on live TV.
33. He Was Humiliated On Live TV
When Johnny Carson had Reed on The Tonight Show in 1975, film actress Shelley Winters became angered by some offensive remarks Reed had made about feminism and women's rights—so she decided to get revenge. Winters poured a drink on his head on live TV.
Reed made many inappropriate comments during his radio and TV appearances, and soon created an image of himself as a profane, tipsy bad boy.
34. He Made Odd Comments On Radio
Oliver Reed didn’t shy away from profanity. Reed once appeared on the longtime BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs. The host asked what book Reed would take along, and the actor answered Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne—but then he took it up a notch. When the host asked what inanimate object he’d bring, Reed answered that he’d bring an inflatable rubber doll.
Reed’s public appearances always stirred up drama, but he soon found out that it wasn’t always entirely his fault…
35. He Was Exploited By TV Staff
TV producers soon realized that getting Reed tipsy was a surefire method of entertainment. Once, for a taping of a Michael Aspel talk show, producers placed bottles and bottles of spirits in his green room prior to the interview. Reed was plastered when he came on stage, and ended up singing a messy cover of "Wild Thing".
That wasn’t the only instance of TV staff exploiting Reed either.
36. He Was Filmed Secretly
More television producers realized that feeding Reed drinks would result in prime entertainment for their programs. One TV show, The Word, didn’t just plant bottles of booze in his dressing room before the show—they also put in secret cameras so that they could film him drinking.
However, Reed wasn’t as dense as they thought.
37. He Was Playing Along
According to Reed, the whole situation was just a stunt. He said he knew the whole time about the “secret” camera and the drinks they planted in his dressing room were just water. He said the producers paid him to “act drunk” so he was just playing along.
This sentiment was something others had begun to feel about Reed.
38. His Tipsiness Was A Ruse
In Evil Spirits, a biography about Reed written by Cliff Goodwin, Cliff theorized that Reed was not always as inebriated on talk shows as he seems to be, but rather was acting up to play the part of an uncontrollable, somewhat miserable former star to spice things up for the show–and usually by the producers’ request.
Still, other anecdotes corroborate Reed’s genuine personality as a brutish, rough man. But, his personality while sober was a different story.
39. He Started More Fights
In Robert Sellers's book Hellraisers, he described one incident where Oliver Reed got into another bar fight and ended up beating up several police officers. The incident of Reed roughing up the policemen was widely reported—but few know about the surprising aftermath.
Reed ended up sending the officers a bouquet of flowers to apologize. But that wasn’t the only time Reed showed his kinder side.
40. He Bought A Stranger A House
In another less famous story, Oliver Reed was at a pub earlier into his acting career. He started chatting up another customer, and ended up promising him that he would buy him a house in Scotland once he became famous. Years passed and Reed followed through on his word, buying that barroom stranger a property in Scotland once his acting career had flourished.
While Reed was a well-known actor by all means, he could have been much, much bigger.
41. He Claimed To Have Been Offered A Major Movie Roles
Reed mostly worked on British films, and claimed to have turned down a number of major roles, notably the Hollywood blockbusters The Sting (1973) and Jaws (1975), because he didn't want to move to California.
While Reed said he missed out on these roles by his own choice, Hollywood film executives had a different story.
42. He Lied About Turning Down Offers
Both of the roles in The Sting and Jaws ended up being taken by fellow British actor Robert Shaw. However, one American film executive refuted Reed’s claims, saying "Reed didn't turn us down. We turned him down. We like our stars to have respect—Oliver Reed didn't respect anyone and he showed it”.
His image as a bad boy came back to bite him a number of times. Soon, he would miss out on another huge opportunity.
43. He Almost Played James Bond
It was said that Oliver Reed was within a sliver of being cast as the iconic superspy James Bond instead of Sean Connery. In a letter, film producer Albert R Broccoli described the decision not to replace Connery: "With Reed we would have had a far greater problem to destroy his image and re-mold him as James Bond. We just didn't have the time or money to do that”.
Reed was already drinking and fighting recklessly—he was too far from the Bond image at that point, and unfortunately wasn’t offered the role.
44. He Was Criticized For His Film Choices
While Reed played in a number of roles throughout his career, he faced heavy criticism for some of his film choices in the late 1980s. He appeared in exploitation films produced by the infamous producer Harry Alan Towers. Many were filmed in South Africa during the apartheid regime.
Reed’s career was floundering and he ended up spending lots of his time doing TV show appearances. However, Reed soon began to resent those gigs as well.
45. He Didn’t Like Being Known For Drinking
Later in his life, Oliver Reed’s dark reputation caught up to him. He would often be interviewed on talk shows, mostly about his drinking habits. He hated this. He was irritated that TV hosts would concentrate on his wild drinking stories rather than his acting career and latest films.
But, the talk shows weren’t blameless. Reed often gave them plenty of reasons to focus on his drinking.
46. He Arrived To Set Intoxicated
As he got older, Oliver Reed was getting cast less and less. His acting career was steadily slowing down. Luckily, he landed a cameo role as Mordechai Fingers in Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island in the mid-1990s. However, one day, Reed showed up to the set extremely inebriated, upsetting the staff and producers on set.
That wasn’t even the worst part.
47. He Was Fired From A Gig
After stumbling around on set, Oliver Reed did something utterly disturbing. He had apparently attempted to expose himself to one of the lead actresses, Geena Davis. This inappropriate incident got Reed promptly fired from the gig. He was replaced with British character actor George Murcell.
His acting career looked bleak after that, but Reed had other aspirations in mind in life.
48. He Was Extremely Patriotic
Oliver Reed described himself as extremely patriotic. He long preferred to live in the United Kingdom instead of relocating to California, where he would have had more acting opportunities. During the Falklands conflict in 1982, Reed covered his home in a huge Union Jack flag and decorated all of his rooms with army paraphernalia.
But his patriotism went even further than that.
49. He Tried To Enlist Again
Reed was not only supportive of Britain’s efforts during the Falklands confilct, he wanted to be a part of their defense response. Once again, Reed tried to enlist for the army, at the age of 44, after having been rejected from the army when he was a young man. And once again, he was turned down.
Unfortunately, Reed soon faced even more misfortune.
50. He Faced Serious Health Issues
It was no surprise that Reed’s health deteriorated as he got older, especially with his heavy drinking. In December 1987, Reed, who was already overweight and dealing with gout, became extremely sick with kidney issues as a result of his alcoholism.
His doctor recommended him to quit drinking for a year. Reed followed his advice and slowed his drinking down and was able to get a handle on his acting career again.
51. His Co-Star Hated Him
At the age of 60, Reed landed a role as an elderly trainer named Proximo in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000). This was Reed’s opportunity for a big comeback. However, Reed, like many, never changed his ways. His abrasive personality caused tensions between him and main actor Russell Crowe.
They both resented each other so much during their time on set that at one point, Reed even challenged Crowe to a fight. Tensions were high—so while on a break from filming, Reed decided to take a well-needed vacation.
52. He Challenged Sailors To A Drinking Match
While on hiatus from filming Gladiator, Oliver Reed and some of his pals flew to Malta to unwind. There, Reed came across a group of sailors in a bar, and like his old self, challenged them to a drinking match. The sailors were much younger than Reed and held their own against the experienced drinker. But soon, the match got out of hand…
53. He Passed Suddenly
He quickly fell ill during the drinking competition and collapsed on the floor, shocking the bar patrons. Reed was quickly rushed to the hospital, but unfortunately it was too late. Oliver Reed passed in an ambulance from a heart attack. He was 61 years old.
The circumstances of his passing were even more tragic.
54. His End Was Tragic
Actor Omid Djalili, who was also in Malta at the time of Reed’s passing, said in an interview that Reed hadn't had a drink for months before filming started. “Everyone said he went the way he wanted, but that's not true. It was very tragic. He was in an Irish bar and was pressured into a drinking competition,” said Djalili. “He should have just left, but he didn't”.
Whether through peer pressure or his own recklessness, Reed had always theorized he would have gone the way he did.
55. He Predicted His Own End
It wasn’t surprising that Oliver Reed met his end through his own vices, and he knew as much as well. In a TV interview in 1994 for The Obituary Show, Reed said he wanted to go by overdrinking, and predicted as much. “I died in a bar of a heart attack full of laughter,” said Reed in the 1994 interview. “I laughed so much I was sick and died”.
Despite his prior predictions, Reed had tried to change his ways.
56. He Had Promised To Quit Drinking
Oliver Reed made a number of promises to Gladiator director Ridley Scott—most notably that he wouldn’t drink during production. He only drank on weekends. Gladiator co-star David Hemmings was a longtime friend of Reed’s and in 2020, Scott said "David Hemmings (Cassius) promised to look after him and said to me [upon his death], I'm really sorry, old boy".
Still, the show—or movie—had to go on.
57. His Last Film Appearance Had To Be Altered
As a result of his death during the middle of Gladiator filming, Reed’s remaining scenes in the movie had to be completed using a body double and computer-generated imagery, or CGI. This cost the film over $3 million dollars.
Despite these alterations, Reed was posthumously nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gladiator.