Back in my Z Channel days, no actor seemed to show up more often—or was more welcomed by me—than England’s late great Oliver Reed. In his 40-year career, Reed made nearly 100 films ranging from The Brood, The Devils, Tommy, Burnt Offerings, to the film that killed him (in a Maltese pub, of course), Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.
I think even as a kid, I was able to identify Reed’s onscreen appeal. It’s the same element missing from so many of today’s career-focused actors: joy. Reed loved performing, loved having an audience. As might be expected from the man who once famously said, “My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet,” Reed loved life, loved living it, and he clearly planned to squeeze from it every possible drop of pleasure, pinball wizards and haunted houses be damned.
Even “King of Cool” Steve McQueen proved no match for the Oliver Reed lifeforce. The story goes that McQueen flew to London to discuss a project. Putting business aside for a bit, the pair went on a marathon pub crawl which resulted in Reed vomiting on McQueen. The project was never consummated.
Fortunately, we have all those many great films to remember Reed by. But now, thanks to YouTube, we can revisit some of his more memorable small-screen performances. Reed was a frequent, frequently drunk, guest on television both here and in the UK.
In a testament to the saccharine and stage-managed nature of our current talk show landscape, witness below as Reed gropes feminist writer Kate Millett on British TV’s After Dark. Thanks to After Dark’s supplying of Reed with a “booze buffet” before and during taping, what starts out as a sober-minded discussion on militarism, masculine stereotypes, and violence to women, soon devolves into something else:
And that’s just the mesmerizing endpoint to an escalating, tour de force Reed workout you can watch in its entirety here: I, II, III. But even on the dog-and-pony circuit this side of the Atlantic, Reed was no more willing to dilute his behavior. His face-off with David Letterman follows below:
Bonus II: Drinking With Oliver Reed
(Thank you, Chris Campion!)