Though we never know the exact moment when we will shove off this mortal coil, it was very small odds to wager Oliver Reed would pop his clogs in a bar after one too many jugs of ale. It was how the great actor said he wanted to go and he predicted as much in an TV interview for The Obituary Show in 1994:
I died in a bar of a heart attack full of laughter. We were having a cabbage competition. I was very confident that for once I was going to win this vegetable competition. And somebody made a bet with me that was so lewd that I took it on and he shook my hand. And I laughed so much I was sick and died.
Reed died in a bar in Valletta, Malta during the filming of Ridley Scott’s movie Gladiator on May 2nd, 1999. Though he died in a bar drinking is true, the myths of that fateful day have clouded one small fact about Reed during his final screen role. As one of his co-stars Omid Djalili surprisingly recounted earlier this year, Reed “hadn’t had a drink for months before filming started.”
Above him the sky…
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. He should have just left, but he didn’t.
The stories as to what and how much Reed consumed that day vary enormously. All that can be said is that Reed’s untimely demise was a great loss to acting, cinema and most of our lives in general. For if Reed did anything—he entertained us for forty years.
Gladiator would have been his comeback movie. His career had sadly withered during the 1990s to a handful of movies and too many inebriated appearances on TV. Reed never regretted his chat show escapades claiming he was an entertainer and the audience always expected him to be bad.
Reed’s role models for life and drink were the fighter pilots he met as a child during the Second World War. Many of these pilots had been his mother’s lovers. Reed’s job was to mix their drinks at the cocktail his mother organized. At each successive party, the number of pilots in attendance diminished as they were killed in active duty. Reed never forgot the carefree way they laughed, drank and enjoyed life fully without worrying about their ever-approaching death or injury.
Reed wanted to live “bravely.” He felt acting was a fraud compared to those who fought battles, won wars, or worked hard every single day of their lives to eke out a basic living to support their families. Acting was pretending. Real life was out there—somewhere—usually in a bar.
The Obituary Show was a novel—albeit somewhat morbid—take on the traditional chat show. It presented various celebrities in heavenly surroundings discussing their lives as if they were looking down from the other side. The guests weighed up their lives answering questions on regrets, failings and success.
Though “frightened of not dying bravely,” Reed ‘fessed up very few (serious) regrets:
I regret having not made love to every woman on Earth.I regret having not kissed the nose of every dog on Earth. I regret having not been into every bar on Earth. But that doesn’t make me a hellraiser. If somebody punches me on the nose, I’ll punch them back. If somebody buys me a drink I’ll buy them one back.
The punctuation mark I leave on this helter-skelter of life: On my gravestone is written “He made the air move.”
How the press reported it.
Reed gave a rare and thoughtful interview in this edition of The Obituary Show with his most moving admission made when discussing events after his death:
The only thing I regret about my own funeral was that I couldn’t go to my own wake because it was a wonderful party. And every time I kept on tapping somebody on the shoulder—I’m going to cry now. They didn’t know I was there.
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