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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 March 2006, 12:39 GMT
Obituary: Jack Wild
Jack Wild
Wild was 16 when he starred as street urchin the Artful Dodger
Jack Wild became a star in his early teens, playing the Artful Dodger in both the stage and screen version of Oliver! He had success in America, too, but was later beset by health problems.

Wild's star burned bright and early. Born near Oldham in the north of England, he was playing football in a London park with Phil Collins - who was a child actor before he was a musician - when he was spotted by Collins' mother, a talent agent.

She suggested her son's friend go into showbusiness too. Some 18 months later, Wild was on stage as the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, alongside Ron Moody and Oliver Reed.

The Dickensian romp, with its dark London settings, wistful storylines and Lionel Bart's memorable score - songs such as Food Glorious Food and the Dodger's own Consider Yourself At Home - became an instant classic, and made stars of everyone involved.

Decline

Wild, along with Moody and Reed, went on to the make the 1968 film version of the musical. Although it was Mark Lester as Oliver who famously got to ask for more, Jack Wild caught the imagination as the amoral street urchin, gaining international attention and earning an Oscar nomination.

Still only 16, he went on to star in an American television series, HR PufnStuff, and also a feature film based on the show. Wild co-starred with puppets and elaborately-frocked actors as a marooned boy on an enchanted land.

Other roles followed in Melody and Flight of the Doves, and Wild also made three albums including Everything's Coming Up Roses.

He was an established worldwide teen idol but, within a few years, had succumbed to a destructive lifestyle.

Jack Wild recent picture
Alcoholism and cancer took their physical toll
His career fell away rapidly as he embarked on a routine of heavy drinking and smoking. By the age of 21, he was a diagnosed alcoholic, diabetic and out of favour with audiences.

Despite this, he appeared in another Dickens epic in 1976, this time the BBC production of Our Mutual Friend, and later made occasional film appearances.

He stopped drinking in 1988 but said his early behaviour had made him a walking time bomb. Sure enough, he was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2000.

In July 2004, he had his tongue and voice box removed, leaving him unable to speak, eat or drink. Despite this, he managed to fulfil further acting roles, often at the side of his partner, Claire Harding, who was able to lip-read and speak for him.

'Deadly mixture'

In later life, Wild campaigned for more awareness of the symptoms of mouth cancer, and urged others to be aware of the risk factors.

He reflected: "I went through the 1970s and 80s in a drunken haze. I was a heavy smoker and heavy drinker, and apparently together they are a deadly mixture."

Morrissey's song Little Man, What Now, about a child-star long faded from the spotlight, was often thought to be about the rise and fall of Jack Wild.

Certainly, his eventual struggles seemed a long way from the cheeky, cherubic imp who welcomed Oliver into Fagin's den.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear Jack Wild in Oliver!



SEE ALSO:
Oliver! star Jack Wild dies at 53
02 Mar 06 |  Entertainment



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