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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Jack Wild, of Oliver and HR Pufanstuf, Dies at 53

For Jack Wild, the 1970s and 1980s were about lots of drinking and less work. Still, the former teen idol once said, he was grateful for the journey--"because I have learnt a hell of a lot."

Wild, the Oscar-nominated bundle of energy who burned bright, if briefly, in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Oliver! and the classic kids' show H.R. Pufnstuf, died Wednesday of mouth cancer. He was 53, an incongruous age for an actor who in reruns of those signature credits never has boasted a wrinkle or battled a demon tougher than Witchiepoo.
Even before his death, Wild's Cockney accent had been silenced by surgery that removed his tongue and voice box. According to the U.K. news agency, the Press Association, the cancer-stricken actor relied on his wife to read his lips and speak on his behalf.

Three months ago, Wild helped promote a mouth cancer awareness campaign in England. The star, presumably through his wife, warned that his old ways had made him a "walking time bomb."

"I was a heavy smoker and an even heavier drinker and apparently together they are a deadly mixture," Wild said, according to the Press Association.

Wild's end was a world away from his beginnings as a star.

In 1969, Wild was 16 and an Academy Award nominee for Oliver!, the musical version of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. His buoyant song-and-dance routines as thief Fagin's best young agent, The Artful Dodger, a role he'd played on the London stage, earned him like recognition at the British Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Wild didn't convert any of the nominations into wins--61-year-old Jack Albertson bested him at the Oscars--but his future seemed bright.

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At 7:16 PM, Blogger Melissa O. Markham said...

I luved HR Pufanstuf!


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