02 March 2006

Jimmy's Off To "Living Island" For Good...

Conspicuously MIA from this year's Oscar noms was Roman Polanski's adaptation of Dickens' "Oliver Twist", and eerily timed with this weekend's awards ceremony, is sad news of the death of everyone's favorite "Artful Dodger"--and Oscar nominee for the role--Jack Wild, who passed away yesterday from oral cancer at the age of 53.

"Oliver" won Best Picture in 1968, and Wild provided what for many is the classic film's standout performance. But for me, he was and always-shall-be "Jimmy" on Sid And Marty Kroft's uber-bizarre childrens' series/Technicolour mescaline trip "H.R. Pufnstuf", in which he and his talking flute "Freddy" teamed up with a talking dragon (and several obvious "McDonaldland" inspirations) to repeatedly thwart the dastardly plans of Witchy-Poo. Wild reprised his role in a feature film version that costarred Mama Cass, released during the series' run to cash in on its considerable popularity.

Born in northern England in 1952, Wild was discovered by a talent scout while playing soccer, and was cast in the London stage production of "Oliver!" as pickpocket the Artful Dodger. Given his association with musical roles ("Pufnstuf" featured many songs, and he released three solo albums during the 70s), it's all the more sad that since 2000, Wild was largely unable to speak, due to chemotherapy treatments and the ravages of cancer. Wild blamed his illness on years of heavy drinking and smoking, and admitted that his "lifestyle had made me a walking time bomb."

A pretty decent fansite offers photos and audio clips here.