When Oliver Reed met Keith Moon their lives changed forever. Together Moon and Reed formed a bizarre, unholy and incredible friendship that brought them both to the edge of madness and ultimately lead to their untimely deaths.
Their friendship began during the making of Ken Russell’s Tommy, as Lee Patrick recalled on olliereed.co.uk:
I was living with Keith Moon at the time and they were just about to start filming Tommy, Keith and I had spent all morning driving Soho’s sex shops buying dildoes, rubber stuff etc for Keith to use as props for Uncle Ernie.
At lunch time Keith decided to drop into Ken Russell’s office and mentioned that he’d like to meet Ollie before they started filming, Ken immediately got on the phone to Ollie and suggested a meeting, Ollie invited us to Broome Hall afternoon so we were off to Battersea Heliport where we boarded a helicopter to take us there. We arrived on his front lawn shortly afterwards, unfortunately frightening his pregnant horses, Ollie was standing there in the doorway holding 2 pint mugs whisky for us. He was a charming host and invited us to stay for dinner.
Dinner was served on a huge medieval oak table and before we started eating Ollie jumped up and grabbed two large swords which were hanging on the wall, giving one to Keith. The two of them ended up having a sword fight up and down the table, that was the appetiser! After dinner Ollie invited us down to his local pub, The Cricketers, where we all got very drunk, with Ollie and Keith undressing, each one trying to outdo the drunken antics of the other, they were so alike that it was no wonder they became great friends.
Later on, back at Broome Hall, Ollie insisted we stay the night, we were up for that, expecting to be sleeping in a magnificent bedroom, however, his entourage took up all the furnished bedrooms and we were led out to the stables!! Keith said we would pass up his invitation and go home, but Ollie would have none of it, and next thing we knew he was standing there pointing an old shotgun at us, so we said OK we’ll stay, we ended up sleeping on couches in the living room!
At the time of their meeting, in the mid-seventies, Reed was Britain’s most successful and highest paid film star, something he was always keen to let any scandal-mongering press know:
‘I’m the biggest star this country has got. Destroy me and you destroy the whole British film industry.’
He had also been voted the sexiest actor alive and told Photoplay magazine:
‘I may look like a Bedford truck, but the women know there’s a V-8 engine underneath.’
Though he also claimed the film world wasn’t where his ambitions lay:
‘I have two ambitions in life: one is to drink every pub dry, the other is to sleep with every woman on earth.’
It was disingenuous, for Reed was serious about his acting and was “always word perfect and unfailingly courteous to colleagues and technicians.” Reed was well respected as an actor, and a professional, and once came within “a sliver” of replacing Sean Connery as James Bond in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but Reed’s reputation as a hell-raiser meant the part went to George Lazenby.
Even so, by 1975, Reed had made an impressive range of films, including I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name (the first film to have the word “fuck” in it); The Jokers; The Assassination Bureau; Hannibal Brroks; The Shuttered room; Women in Love (first male-full frontal nudity, a scene which was not in the original script, and was only included after Reed encouraged Russell to film it); Sitting Target; and perhaps his best film, The Devils.
Reed had formed a creative partnership with Ken Russell, the director he called “Jesus Christ,” since they had worked together on the BBC TV drama The Debussy film. It was because of this partnership that the non-singing Reed was cast in the role of Frank in the musical Tommy. As Reed and Moon capered and drank copiously off-set, it was to have a debilitating effect for Moon on-set:
Reed’s part got bigger and bigger as Keith Moon’s got smaller and smaller, probably due to Ken Russell’s familiarity with Oliver, and the fact that he could drink himself into stupor at night and show up on time and line-perfect in the morning, while Moonie remained stuporous.
Their friendship was an unstable chemical compound based on drink, drugs, sex and pranks, as Reed was to remark:
‘I like the effect drink has on me. What’s the point of staying sober?’
The life of excess has but one destination, and as Cliff Goodwin wrote in his definitive biography of Reed, Evil Spirits, the end came during Reed’s 40th birthday party at a swanky hotel in Hollywood, when Moon decided to liven things up with his impersonation of a “human helicopter”. Moon jumped onto a table, grabbed the blades of an overhead fan, and began to spin around, above the heads of the invited guests. Unfortunately, the blades had slashed Moon’s hands and arms and he splattered the A-list guests with gore.
It was the moment that Reed realized the genie was well and truly out of the bottle and that he or Moon would die from their life of excess. Tragically, it was Moon who died six months later. Reed never recovered from Moon’s death, and later claimed a day didn’t go by when he didn’t think about Moon the Loon.
Previously on DM