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'Oliver!' Artful Dodger Actor Jack Wild


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'Oliver!' Artful Dodger Actor Jack Wild

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Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger in 'Oliver!'

LONDON, England - Actor Jack Wild, best known as the child star who earned an Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of The Artful Dodger in the 1968 film, "Oliver!," passed away at midnight on Wednesday, March 1, after a battle with cancer. He was 53.

"My client, Jack Wild, died peacefully at midnight last night after a long battle with oral cancer," his agent Alex Jay said. "He always said he was an entertainer. He wanted 'The Entertainer' to be played at his funeral," Jay added, referring to the Scott Joplin tune used for the film "The Sting."

Wild was born on September 30, 1952 in Royton, Manchester. He was discovered as a young lad by agent June Collins (mother of drummer/musician Phil Collins). Wild came to the attention of the public when he was selected to appear in the leading role in the London stage production of Lionel Bart's musical of Charles Dicken's "Oliver!"

Soon after, when the show was made into a movie, he was given the role of The Artful Dodger. Wild was just 16 when he dazzled as the ducking-and-diving pickpocket Dodger in the classic musical based on Charles Dickens' novel.

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Jack Wild as Jimmie in 'H.R. Pufnstuf'

Based on his popularity, Wild went on to star in the 1969 American television series, "H.R. Pufnstuf." The instant success of this program led to him being offered the role for the film version in 1970. Other roles quickly followed as Wild became a highly demanded character actor for both screen and stage.

A promising future seemed likely after his star turn in "Oliver!" with several television and film roles to his resume. Wild's credits included 1971's "Melody" with "Oliver!" co-star Mark Lester and "Flight of the Doves" with "Oliver!" co-star Ron Moody. Around this period he also released three song albums: "The Jack Wild Album," "Everything's Coming up Roses" and "Beautiful World."

Unfortunately, Wild's career began to derail, in part from excessive smoking and drinking from an early age. After becoming clean and sober, he made a small comeback in the 1991 blockbuster, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" in the minor role of Much the Miller's Son and in the London stage adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz" as the Cowardly Lion.

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Jack Wild . . . yesterday as a child actor and today with his wife Claire (right)

Wild blamed his mouth cancer on his heavy smoking and boozing. Wild was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2000. Wild was given the all-clear following surgery in 2004 in which he had part of his tongue and several vocal chords removed. After surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, he was left unable to speak but appeared on stage. His wife would lip read for him, though he still performed in pantomime.

Wild said he spent the "70s and 80s in a drunken haze" but had been sober since 1988. "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 is survived by his wife, Claire, who he married last year after a long-term partnership. At the time of his death, Wild was working on his autobiography and had also been soliciting a script treatment of a sequel to "Oliver!"

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