What happened to the cast of Oliver after Oscars success and was there a curse?

12 March 2021, 16:53 | Updated: 12 March 2021, 17:04

Mark Lester and Jack Wild starred in Oliver
Mark Lester and Jack Wild starred in Oliver. Picture: Getty/Columbia Pictures

By Tom Eames

Oliver! was a massive hit at the international box office in 1968, turning its relatively unknown cast into superstars overnight.

Directed by Carol Reed and written by Vernon Harris, Oliver! was based on the 1960 stage musical of the same name, which itself was based on Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist.

The film featured classic songs such as 'Food, Glorious Food', 'Consider Yourself', 'As Long as He Needs Me', 'You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two', and 'Where Is Love?'.

See more: Where are the cast of Jurassic Park now 28 years later?

At the 1969 Oscars, Oliver! was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture and Best Director for Reed.

But what happened to its main cast members and is there a so-called curse attached to them?

  1. Jack Wild (The Artful Dodger)

    Jack Wild
    Jack Wild. Picture: Getty

    16-year-old Jack Wild became an international teen heartthrob after playing the cheeky Artful Dodger in Oliver!, and he was even nominated for an Oscar.

    He soon went on to star in the US TV show HR Pufnstuf, and reunited with Mark Lester in the 1971 film Melody, soundtracked by the Bee Gees. He also embarked on a music career in the early 1970s.

    However, by the end of the 1970s Jack had failed to recapture his success and struggled with alcohol addiction. By 1973, aged 21, he was an alcoholic, and he had diabetes 10 years later.

    Jack Wild
    Jack Wild. Picture: Getty

    His first wife Gaynor Jones left him in 1985 due to his drinking, and his career was all but over. He finally got sober in 1989.

    Jack did return to acting by the 1990s, appearing in a supporting role in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

    Jack Wild • Interview ~ 2002

    Tragically, Jack was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2001, and later had his tongue and voicebox removed, leaving him unable to speak. He had to communicate through his second wife Claire for the rest of his life.

    He died aged 53 in 2006.

  2. Mark Lester (Oliver)

    Mark Lester
    Mark Lester. Picture: Getty

    Mark Lester was cast in the title role of the 1968 film, though his singing was dubbed by Kathe Green, daughter of the film's music arranger Johnny Green.

    He went on to act in a number of films over the next 10 years, including the lead role in The Prince and the Pauper.

    Mark gave up acting at the age of 19. In his 20s, he became a karate black belt, and later started a career in osteopathy.

    Mark Lester in 2017
    Mark Lester in 2017. Picture: Getty

    Aged 28, he took his A-Levels, passing Chemistry and Biology. He became an osteopath, studying at the British School of Osteopathy, and in 1993, Lester opened the Carlton Clinic, an acupuncture clinic in Cheltenham.

    He has four children with his first wife, Jane, whom he divorced in 2005. In 2006, he married his second wife, a psychiatric nurse.

    Mark was famously a close friend of Michael Jackson, and has claimed in interviews that he could be the biological father of Paris Jackson, as he provided his sperm to the singer.

  3. Shani Wallis (Nancy)

    Shani Wallis in Oliver!
    Shani Wallis in Oliver! Picture: Getty

    West End performer Shani Wallis arguably stole the show with her powerful performance as the tragic Nancy in Oliver!.

    After the movie, Shani moved to the States with her husband and appeared in a number of TV shows like Charlie's Angels, Columbo and Murder She Wrote.

    However, she was not able to recapture the success of her most famous role.

    “When I came back to America, I had offers to do what became a very famous series on television, The Brady Bunch," she told the Sunday Post.

    Oliver! Shani Wallis Interview - Nancy

    "I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do movies. But then movie musicals like Doctor Dolittle flopped and they decided not to make any more, which was a big blow. I went back into theatre and nightclubs.

    “If I’d stayed in the UK after Oliver!, I’d probably still be working hard. But I had an ultimatum from my husband."

    Now aged 87, the Tottenham-born singer still lives in the States. She has one daughter, Rebecca.

  4. Oliver Reed (Bill Sikes)

    Reed As Bill Sykes
    Reed As Bill Sykes. Picture: Getty

    Oliver Reed was already something of an acting legend by 1968, but it was Oliver! that turned him into a household name after playing the villainous Bill Sikes.

    He had already developed a reputation as something of a hellraiser, heavy drinker and womaniser. He went on to star in films like Women in Love, Tommy and The Devils.

    Sadly, his career was stalled by his drinking, and missing out on roles in films like The Sting and Jaws. He is also said to have missed out on playing James Bond due to his lifestyle.

    Oliver Reed in 1989
    Oliver Reed in 1989. Picture: Getty

    By the 1980s, his career had declined, and he died from a heart attack in Malta in 1999, while filming Ridley Scott's Gladiator.

    His remaining scenes were completed using a body double and digital technology, and his performance was highly praised. 'Consider Yourself' was played at his funeral.

  5. Ron Moody (Fagin)

    Ron Moody as Fagin
    Ron Moody as Fagin. Picture: Getty

    Ron Moody was a relative unknown when he played Fagin in the original 1960 stage musical, and he was nominated for an Oscar for the role eight years later.

    However, he later admitted that he should have capitalised on his fame, saying: "If I had stayed in America afterwards, then things would probably have been much better and I would have had lots of film work, which I wanted.

    "But the day after the Oscars I flew back to London to film a television play for Anglia. It was a big mistake because you never really get acknowledged for wanting to work in England, as I did. I just think now that you are a bloody fool if you do that. You should take the money when you can."

    Ron Moody in 2011
    Ron Moody in 2011. Picture: Getty

    In 1969, he also declined to play the Doctor in Doctor Who, a decision he later said that he regretted.

    He continued acting throughout his life, including roles in David Copperfield, Othello, The Animals of Farthing Wood and EastEnders.

    Ron Moody died of natural causes, aged 91, in 2015.