Jack Wild, the actor appeared who in the movie musical “Oliver!” died March 1 in England after a battle with mouth cancer. He was 53.
As a child actor, Wild appeared in a London stage production of “Oliver!”, Lionel Bart’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” He was cast in the film as cheeky pickpocket the Artful Dodger, earning an Academy Award nomination at the age of 16.
He was known to a generation of children as the hero of “HR Pufnstuf,” a U.S. television series about a boy stranded on a fantastical island with a talking flute, a friendly dragon and eerie, chatty trees. A feature film, “Pufnstuf,” appeared in 1970.
Discovered while playing soccer with Phil Collins by Collins’ mother, a talent agent, he was a millionaire by 18 and an alcoholic by 21. He appeared in Alan Parker’s first film “Melody” and in the BBC film “Our Mutual Friend,” but admitted that he spent much of his adult life “in an alcoholic haze” until giving up drinking in 1989. He went on to play one of the Merry Men in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” in 1991 and worked on the stage.
Regretting how his fast rise to stardom contributed to his addictive tendencies, he worked with the former child actors’ group A Minor Consideration, and wrote an open letter to “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe cautioning against the risks of young stardom.
Wild was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2000, and surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy had left him unable to speak. However, he had a small role with “Oliver!” co-star Ron Moody in the film “Moussaka and Chips” last year.
He is survived by his wife, Claire Harding.