Monday, March 06, 2006

Jack Wild: The Boy Who Sang Music

They may try to paint him as another child prodigy tragedy but to me Jack Wild was just a wonderfully talented person. On my block, growing up, girl or boy, we all wanted to be him. The look that we see Michael Jackson aspire to is always attributed to Diana Ross but in actuality I think Jacko really wants to be Jimmy from HR Pufnstuff as any modern day Peter Pan would.
Maybe it's the mop-top hair do or his kindly West London accent..I'm not sure I just hope that Jack Wild knew how many young lives he touched and that he was perhaps England's greatest child actor. Surely anyone who has seen Sir Carol Reed's masterpiece "Oliver!" would agree that alongside Oliver Reed's unrivaled portrayal of Bill Sikes that Wild's Artful Dodger cannot be topped. The dark alley's, the sad Victorian mornings somehow become hopeful when Wild's bright eyes appear on screen.

From The Nottingham evening Post: Jack Wild, the actor who played the Artful Dodger in the 1968 film Oliver!, died last night after a battle with cancer, his agent announced today.
Wild's agent Alex Jay said: "My client Jack Wild died peacefully at midnight last night after a long battle with oral cancer." Wild was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2000, and after surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, he was unable to speak.
Wild blamed his mouth cancer on a lifestyle of heavy smoking and drinking, saying it had made him a "walking time bomb" for mouth cancer. He was given the all-clear following surgery, in which he had his tongue and voicebox removed. The former child star, who was just 16 when he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the classic film, was 53.
Despite not being able to speak, Wild still performed in panto, and his wife, Claire Harding, would lip read and speak for the Oliver! star.
Last year he worked with Cancer Research UK to urge others to be aware of the risk factors and know the symptoms of the disease.
He said he spent the "70s and 80s in a drunken haze" but had been sober for 16 years.
"Until I was diagnosed with mouth cancer, I'd never heard of it. My lifestyle had made me a walking timebomb," he said.
"I was a heavy smoker and an even heavier drinker and apparently together they are a deadly mixture.
Wild was born on September 30 1952 in Royton, near Oldham, Lancs.
He was discovered by talent agent June Collins, mother of rock star Phil Collins, while playing football.
After attending stage school, his breakthrough came when he landed the role of Oliver in the London stage production of the show.
He then joined hundreds of other members of the cast at the audition for the film.
His performance as the infamous pickpocket in Oliver!, starring Oliver Reed, resulted in an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.
His success in Oliver! helped him win the lead role in US children's series HR Pufnstuf.
HR Pufnstuf (1969) featured Wild with puppets and actors in elaborate costumes as a marooned boy in an enchanted land.
The success of the programme led to Wild reprising the role of Jimmy for the film version in 1970.
Other roles followed, including a starring role in Alan Parker's first film Melody (1971), and Flight Of The Doves in the same year.
Wild became a teen idol, releasing three albums, The Jack Wild Album, Everything's Coming up Roses, and Beautiful World.
But by the age of 21 he was an alcoholic, was diagnosed diabetic and fell from showbiz favour.
Wild was discovered while living in Hounslow, west London, with his parents, who had been mill workers in Manchester.
At the age of 23, he married his childhood sweetheart Gaynor Jones, who became a backing singer with Kim Wilde and Suzi Quatro.
The marriage collapsed because of his addiction, and Wild said: "Booze made me so ill, my heart stopped three times."
His relationship with the actress Claire Harding began 11 years ago when the couple met while doing panto work.
They married quietly in their Bedfordshire village last September.
Wild's last film role reunited him with fellow Oliver! star Ron Moody, who played Fagin, in Moussaka And Chips last year.
In 1991, he appeared in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, with Kevin Costner, and in 1998 he was cast in Basil, with Christian Slater.
During the Seventies he starred in The Pied Piper and the TV series Our Mutual Friend.
Wild, who became a born-again Christian in 1988, had been working in recent months on his autobiography, which he had almost finished.
He underwent surgery for oral cancer in July 2004 after being diagnosed in 2001.
Wild mimed in his last pantomime role, a Christmas production of Cinderella, which was written specially for him.
Wild wrote an open letter to Daniel Radcliffe when he landed the role of Harry Potter, warning of the dangers of becoming a child star.
The actor's agent Jay, a friend of 10 years, said: "He said he wanted The Entertainer played at his funeral, because he always saw himself as an entertainer.
"We had lots of work lined up for him this year, it's very sad.
"He was working really hard on his autobiography, which was almost finished, and he had great plans for that.
"He always looked at the positive side of things. He always looked at the sunny side, despite all the things that he had been through.
"There was always a next day. He always got on with it. He wasn't one to sit back.
"Even in his drinking days, he was always very careful about being photographed with a drink or cigarette in his hand because he didn't want to encourage young people."
Mark Lester, who played Oliver in the musical film, told the BBC: "Jack was like a brother to me during the making of the film and always was very protective
"I gained a lot. The chemistry between us was just something very, very special, which lasted throughout our lives."
Ron Moody, who played Fagin in the film, told Press Association: "We've lost a great artist and I've lost a great friend.
"We were more like Laurel and Hardy. We used to call ourselves Fagin and Dodger. We had that kind of bond between us."
He said: "Jack really was cheated out of a great career. He had a talent that should have developed into even more talent as he grew older."
Moody said of the Artful Dodger role: "It was him. He had this very special personality. He was tiny for his age.
"But in this child's body there was this incredible professional who was on top of it all, singing, dancing, acting.
"He was easy to work with and he respected the adults, and made you feel good. He was a professional and age didn't matter.
"His performance was incredible and the film will remain a classic."
Moody said Wild was hit by "pressure at a very difficult age" adding. "Pressure makes people react in different ways. Some people plunge in and others take the way out.
"Jack also had bad luck, with the fact that he got so ill. The talent was still there but it didn't work out for him.
"I thought he was going to take a new career path and become a mime. I thought he was going to start taking courses in it.
"I never thought he would ever give up. I thought he'd fought it. It's very sad. He was a fighter."
They last met up for the film Moussaka and Chips. Moody said: "We were talking about getting together and going to see each other."
Lester told the Press Association: "Jack was the Artful Dodger and the Artful Dodger was Jack. They were the same.
"Jack was immortalised in that role. He brought the character to life. He was the Dodger.
"He was just like that, the epitome of the cheeky cockney boy singer even though he was from Manchester."
Lester, who never lost touch with Wild, added: "He was a very talented singer, a talented dancer, and incredibly disciplined. It was just the way he was.
"Oliver! had a sense of being like a big family and Jack was like a big brother.
"He was nominated for an Oscar and was one of the youngest nominees and he will always be remembered.
"He has a place in our heart and that of the nation's.
"He was a very, very talented singer, dancer and all-rounder, and very courageous, a strong character and a very positive man.
"If if wasn't for his determined character he would have died a long time ago.
"He had a very serious illness but he battled it, and he never gave up. He fought right to the very end.
"It was not only him, but his wife who was there to support him."
Lester said there could never be another Artful Dodger to capture the public's imagination in the same way Wild did: "They haven't managed to do it yet and I can't see it ever happening."