Born: 30 September 1952
Birthplace: Manchester, England
Died: 1 March 2006 (cancer)
Best Known As: Jimmie on H.R. Pufnstuf
Jack Wild was still a teenager when he was nominated for an Academy Award for playing the Artful Dodger in the 1968 film of the Charles Dickens tale Oliver. Wild went on to star in the oddly fantastical Saturday-morning series H.R. Pufnstuf and the movie Pufnstuf (1970, with Mama Cass Elliot). Wild lost many years of his later career to alcoholism, but he sobered up and returned to acting in the 1990s. In 2002 he had his larynx (voice box) and tongue surgically removed after being diagnosed with cancer of the mouth; the operation left him unable to speak.
Wild had a small role as one of Robin Hood's merry men in the 1991 Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves... H.R. Pufnstuf was created by Sid and Marty Krofft, who also produced the Saturday-morning shows Land of the Lost and Lidsville... In a 2005 interview with the BBC, Wild said his cancer was caused by his previous habits: "What I learned very quickly was that my lifestyle had made me a walking time bomb. I was a heavy smoker and an even heavier drinker and apparently together they are a deadly mixture."
It was at the premiere of the 1968 film version of Oliver! that he met brothers Sid and Marty Krofft, who thought Wild would make a good lead for a show they were developing called H.R. Pufnstuf. Wild starred in this American family TV series that launched in 1969, and also in the spin-off movie. He also embarked on a recording career, cutting one album for Capitol Records and two for Buddah Records in the early 1970s.
Excessive drinking at an early age derailed Wild's career. Sobering up in 1988, he returned to the big screen in a few minor roles, such as in the 1991 Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He was also reported to be developing a TV situation comedy with Suzi Quatro around the same time, but those plans never materialised in an actual series. For the most part, though, Wild spent the remainder of his career working in theatre.
Wild died in Tebworth, age 53, after a long battle with oral cancer. Diagnosed with the disease in 2000, he underwent surgery in July 2004 and had part of his tongue and both vocal cords removed. Because of this surgery, he had lost his speech1 and had to communicate through his wife.