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."


Blogger E.L. Wisty said...

Hi Amanda!

Wild also was known to a generation of children as the hero of "H.R. Pufnstuf," a psychedelic TV series about a boy stranded on a fantastical island with a talking flute, a friendly dragon and eerie, chatty trees.

It's really funny to watch the old children's tv shows you watched as a kid now when you're grown up. The ones made in the 60s and 70s are really psychedelic. Once at my brother's I was watching Doctor Snuggles with my elder nephew, and I was thinking: wow, WHAT were the people who made this show smoking?? Then again, maybe children's imagination IS like that: what grown ups call psychedelic. I can remember Doctor Snuggles was one of my big favourites :-)

8:05 PM  
Blogger ginab said...

Well now I was worried for you personally Super A. The mention of HR Pufnstuff tho makes me feel really old, because I used to watch on Saturday mornings. (Explains a lot!)

The real tragedy, seriously, is what befell Wild in times that were still somewhat innocent in that no one would step in to stop him.

8:13 PM  
Blogger wind-up-man said...

Man,I am getting old...

10:11 PM  
Blogger Anne-Marie said...

Hi Amanda,
I read about Jack Wild's cancer in an old Hello! magazine at my hairdresser a while back, and so it didn't surprise me to hear that he had died. I remember being quite shocked at the pictures of him during his illness. He was indeed a fantastic actor, and was great in Oliver. 53 is much too young for anyone to die, and I do have fond memories of his Artful Dodger and H.R. Pufnstuff. I can still sing every word of the theme song. :)
Thanks for posting the tribute to him and reminding us of the great talent he had.


1:38 AM  
Blogger lryicsgrl said...

I watched a special on child stars over the weekend, well, not a special, but one of those VH1 shows. My heart broke to see what happened to Jack. I cannot believe he just died.
I had a mad crush on "Jimmy", as Jack played him on HR Puffinstuff. Oh, and Oliver. Jack as the Artful Dodger, was well, kinda sexy, to a 10 year old.
Thank you for honoring him here. I am sure he smiles from above. Your kind tribute to him, among all your tributes to Rock legends, is really sweet!!!

2:25 AM  
Blogger Davocaster said...

It is sad about Jack.
When I was 10 years old he was right up there with David Cassidy and Donny Osmond as my heros of the time.
Then I discovered Rock n Roll and they all faded away.
Thanks for jogging my memory, I will have to introduce my kids to H R Puffnstuff to see if they will get as much fun as I did.


4:48 AM  
Blogger JackJumpedOverTheMoon said...


Thankyou for putting this up. God rest his soul.


6:13 AM  
Blogger Dave & Corie said...

"Oh yes, we're all ladies and gentlemen 'round here. We're all of quality!"

Jack Wild...

3:56 AM  
Blogger Suesjoy said...

Oh this is so sad Amanda. I had no idea he passed away.
I had such a crush on him when I was little!
Such a sad life too.
I was so happy to share my love for HR Puffnstuff w/ my daughter - who watched a couple of Blockbuster rentals about 50 times each. She loves the "mechanical boy" number (and the "oranges poranges" song).
Thanks for sharing.
I have alot of catching up to do on your wonderful blog...

5:11 AM  
Blogger marie said...

I loved him!!

9:53 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

You are lovely

12:30 AM  
Blogger Dan L. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:37 AM  
Blogger Alice Salles said...

"53 is much too young for anyone to die" ---> Anne-Marie
I know it's bad, my uncle was exactly this old when he died... he also had cancer... this post was a beautiful tribute! thank you Amanda...

1:32 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

I loved HR Puffinstuff

5:51 AM  
Blogger Antoinette said...

I will also say 'thank you' for taking the time to put this on your blog. I used to loove "H.R. Pufnstuff" too and liked English boys even more because of Jack Wild!I especially enjoyed all the groovy colors and psychedelic scenes. That show,"The Banana Splits," "Schoolhouse Rock," and "American Bandstand" on tv and my Saturday was set!

9:57 PM  
Blogger Justin Kreutzmann said...

Jack's not gone. he lives on in the hearts of millions and through them the children of hundreds. But his lawyer cleared that up.

5:54 AM  
Blogger vanessa said...

as a writer and therefore an observier: I searched uner The Who and The Grateful Dead. Two of my fav bands.I have to admit that when I saw you my first thought was: Tramp. However I was pleasantly surprised at you way of writing. You have a talent. Looks CAN be deceiving. I know, I am a blonde.

10:50 AM  
Blogger vanessa said...

my apologies for my english. it is a second language. i am french. so please excuse any type-o's

10:52 AM  
Blogger Nabonidus said...

Wow. :(
Didn't know he'd passed away, that's so sad! I teared up a little reading the part about how he always looked at the bright side and made the best of things. I need to be more like that.And It told me that even if he'd had a lot of misbehaving and misfortune in his life earlier, he'd learned and grown from it, and had a good life when and where it counted.... What a beautiful person he was inside and out!
Thanks for posting this, I didn't even know he'd gone and I do remember him from so many places! xoxoLisa

4:24 PM  
Blogger rolywholyover said...

I found this article:

My favorite part: "The title 'H.R.' is never explained on the show, and many interpreted it as code for 'Hand Rolled'..."

All I've got to say is, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Sid and Marty habitually smoked marijuana cigarettes -- Reefers!

5:35 PM  
Blogger annie said...

i too adored the pufnstuff. what a springboard-to-psychedelia that show was!

thank you for reminding me of this fun childhood memory, and for the story of this cool-sounding dude.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Metalchick said...

Hi Amanda,
I have to admit that when I was starting to read your post, I was thinking who's Jack Wild? but when you mentioned H.R. Pufnstuf, that jogged my memory. I wasn't born yet when this show was first aired, but I did get to see it later on. It is a tragedy to hear about former child stars passing away. I was glad to read about him writing Daniel Radcliffe a letter warning him about the tragic paths child stars could end up in. I really hope that today's child stars will break the cycle.

6:18 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

That's so sad. I really liked Oliver, my favorite was Fagin, but the Artful Dodger was wonderul. My Dad used to impersonate Fagin (he was an antique dealer) so when we would go to pick up a load in his van, Mum would sing "Hurry up but be back soon", and I would have Fagin sitting next to me saying " only the finest will do dear boy".. I can look back on those awful nights hauling antiques while connected the experience to Oliver.

Working away on a couple of new songs, one is kind of a throw away, we'll see, the other is a bit like something Seal would do on his first CD.

How about you? What have you been up to? I really miss Pete's blog, but, in a way it might be a good thing because I am not spending as much time blogging and working on songs. Recently discovered the Music From Lifehouse concert and bought the DVD and it is absolutely wonderful.

So nice to hear from you Amanda.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Fine In My Sky said...

Are you a professional writer, or about to be one? Can I be your first groupie?


2:26 AM  
Blogger Fine In My Sky said...

Okay, your profile says you are a writer, so the more accurate question is, are you published?

2:27 AM  
Blogger SuperAmanda said...

Hi Natalie,
You can find my writing on and :)

6:37 AM  
Blogger ginab said...

Wild is all that and then, and his death and parts of his life as sad as it is uplifting.

I want Entwistle. The article? Really, Super Amanda, I'm going bonkers waiting to read it.

How much longer?

Pretty please (with impatience)?

1:51 PM  
Blogger Pete Townshend said...

I hung out with Jack for a while when he was trying to stop drinking. He was a mess, but completely adorable. Pete

7:40 PM  
Anonymous said...

Oh my heart, I love this blog post with so many wonderful quotes from Ron Moody and Mark Lester. The agent who found him in the park playing football and decided he had enough charisma for the stage school was one of the the most insightful persons who ever lived. I would have so loved to have known him personally. RIP dear wonderful Jack!

2:29 AM  

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