Actor Jack Wild Dies at 53

3/2/2006 7:01 PM PST

Actor Jack Wild Dies at 53

Best known for his role in "Oliver!"


(Mar. 2) -- Jack Wild, who earned an Oscar nomination as a teenager for his role as the Artful Dodger in the 1968 film "Oliver!" has died from cancer, his agent said Thursday. He was 53.

Wild died Wednesday, agent Alex Jay said. The actor was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2000, and surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy had left him unable to speak.

Born in Royton, northwest England, in 1952, Wild was spotted by a talent agent while playing soccer in a London park and later attended stage school.

He appeared in the London stage production of "Oliver!" Lionel Bart's adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist." Wild was cast in the film as cheeky pickpocket the Artful Dodger, a role that earned the 16-year-old an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

Wild also was known to a generation of children as the hero of "H.R. Pufnstuf," a psychedelic TV series about a boy stranded on a fantastical island with a talking flute, a friendly dragon and eerie, chatty trees. A feature film, "Pufnstuf," was released in 1970.

He became a teen music idol, releasing three albums "The Jack Wild Album," "Everything's Coming up Roses" and "Beautiful World."

But Wild struggled with alcoholism and his adult acting career was fitful, although he had a role in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" in 1991.

The actor blamed his cancer on years of heavy drinking and smoking. "My lifestyle had made me a walking time bomb," he said last year.

Wild is survived by his wife, Claire Harding.