Without any formal training, his career debuted with ‘The Golden Spur’ in 1959, which was a British kids’ series.
He landed his first major role in ‘The Curse of the Werewolf’ in 1961, where he played the role of a young man who transformed into a hairy beast during the full moon.
The following year, he appeared in ‘Pirates of the Blood River’ alongside Christopher Lee and also starred in ‘Captain Clegg’ with Peter Cushing.
In 1963, he attracted widespread fame as the lecherous gang leader in ‘The Damned’.
He was cast as a supporting actor in ‘The Brigand of Kandahar’, in 1965 and in the action-adventure film, ‘The Trap’, in 1966. However, in the 60s, his memorable performance was in the classic musical adaptation of ‘Oliver!, where he played the role of the evil, Bill Sykes.
He spent his first decade as an actor playing dependable supporting roles and soon, he began signing more projects where he was cast as the lead actor. Soon, he played the assassin in the black-comedy, ‘The Assassin Bureau’, in 1969.
In 1969, he shot to international fame after his homoerotic wrestling scene with Alan Bates in the movie, ‘Women in Love’, which not only became a subject of controversy, but was also one of the first films with a brazen depiction of male nudity.
Through the 70s, he went on to play a number of varied and challenging roles in movies like ‘The Hunting Party’, The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Devils’, which got him internationally recognized in the film circuit, but the fame was very short-lived.
It was around this time, he joined hands with three other British actors; Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole, with whom he engaged in heavy drinking, vandalism and public brawls with bystanders. This eventually affected his career, which spiraled downwards then on.
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After a few unsuccessful films, he embarked on a string of unproductive horror flicks including ‘Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype’, ‘The String II’, ‘Venom’ and ‘Spasms’.
He then continued to sign unsuccessful films like ‘Fanny Hill’ in 1983 and the failed screwball comedy, ‘Two of a Kind’, released in the same year.
He later, appeared as Martin Pinzon, in the two-part miniseries, ‘Christopher Columbus’ in 1985.
In 1986, he starred in the erotic thriller, ‘Castaway’, where he played a middle-aged man looking for a companion on a deserted island and receives a response from a drab, uninteresting desk clerk.
He then signed a number of other films as a supporting actor including ‘Gor’, ‘Prisoner of Honor’ and ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’.
In the 1990s, he finally started getting over the addictions that had plagued his career and he appeared in ‘Return to Lonesome Dove’ in 1993. He was then cast in the well-received, ‘Funny Bones’ alongside Oliver Pratt and Jerry Lewis.
In 1999, he was cast in the historical thriller, ‘Marco Polo’ and in the comedy film, ‘Parting Shots’. He also appeared in what turned out to be his final film, ‘Gladiator’, but died before the film could get completed. He was cast as a gruff former Gladiator who transforms Russell Crowe into a champion gladiator.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Kate Byrne in 1960 and the couple had one son, but they got divorced in 1969.
He then met Jacquie Daryl, a classical dancer and had a daughter with her.
In 1985, he married Josephine Burge; the marriage was intact till his death in 1999.
He passed away of a heart attack while filming for the ‘Gladiator’. He was 61 years old and several scenes of the ‘Gladiator’ had to be completed using CGI techniques. He is interred at Churchtown, County Cork, Ireland.