Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the untimely yet unsurprising death of actor and hellraiser par excellence Oliver Reed. I can’t say I have seen too many Oliver Reed movies, so I thought I would focus on the destructive friendship he forged with fellow lunatic, Who drummer Keith Moon. Some of the following stories may have been embellished over time, but who cares when they are this outrageous! So, buckle up and enjoy the ride…
Both men first encountered each other on the set of Tommy. One of their first meeting off-set is described below (taken from olliereed.co.uk and recounted by Lee Patrick):
“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!”
Another famous story in Moon’s biography has Reed firing a shot gun at Moon’s helicopter whilst he attempted to land in Reed’s garden. This was the first time they met. It is recounted by Reed in an interview given to Linda Merinoff for Sounds way back in 1974:
“When he first came here he arrived by helicopter on the front lawn and he had his chauffeur drive along beneath on the road, so the car was going down the road and he was hovering above the car in the helicopter shouting “faster, faster”. He arrived almost through my bathroom window.
I’d just been playing soldiers in the woods when he arrived there, and he suggested halfway through dinner that we should play a game. I was supposed to run around the fields while he chased after me in a car to see if he could hit me”.
A little later on in their friendship, when both men realised that their drinking was getting out of hand, they invented an ingenious, if not a little strange, way of cutting back. Instead of going to AA meetings, they sat at either end of a long table, and placed a bottle of whiskey on the back of a live tortoise and let it walk between them. They reasoned this would slow their drinking down to a suitable level.
There were further shenanigans at 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. Moon was dead 6 months later, something Reed himself admitted he never got over. Reed was to join his friend in hellraiser heaven in 1999 when his body had finally had enough. His last role on screen, rather fittingly, being in the Ridley Scott epic ‘Gladiator’.