Ridley Scott says Oliver Reed ‘dropped down dead’ after challenging sailors to drinking match while filming Gladiator

Reed’s death midway through production forced Scott to complete British actor’s scenes via CGI

Adam White
Tuesday 05 May 2020 11:15
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Watch the official trailer for Ridley Scott's epic historical film Gladiator

Ridley Scott has recalled the death of actor Oliver Reed during the making of Gladiator, remarking that he “dropped down dead on the floor of a pub”.

Reed died midway through production on the Russell Crowe epic, which was released 20 years ago, forcing Scott to finish his scenes by recreating him with CGI.

Speaking to Variety for an oral history of the film, Scott said: “One Sunday morning, he dropped down dead on the floor of a pub. He probably had a couple of pints and said, ‘I don’t feel good,’ laid on the carpet and died.”

Reed, a notorious drinker for much of his life, had made a number of promises to Scott prior to filming, including that he would not drink during production. He worked around his promise, however, by only drinking on weekends. Co-star David Hemmings, a long time friend of Reed’s, had also pledged that he would keep him safe and sober on set.

“David Hemmings (Cassius) promised to look after him and said to me [upon his death], ‘I’m really sorry, old boy’,” Scott remembered.

Screenwriter David Franzoni added that Reed had encountered a crew of sailors in a pub in Malta in the minutes before his death, and had challenged them to a drinking match.

“He’s in this bar in Valletta and this British Destroyer is anchored in the bay and the crew comes in,” Franzoni said. “He challenges the crew to some sort of drinking debauch. He drinks some, passes out and dies. I still have his bar tab, by the way.”

Gladiator, which also starred Joaquin Phoenix and Djimon Hounsou, was a blockbuster success in 2000, with Crowe later winning a Best Actor Oscar for his performance.

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