Inside Keith Moon's Relationship With Oliver Reed

If you were to try and draw a distinction between the entertainment industries of the 20th and 21st centuries, technological improvements would likely be the most obvious factor. But, there have been other, more subtle changes when it comes to the culture underpinning such industries, with modern movements such as #MeToo and successful lobbying for greater diversity in Hollywood, having made significant steps in transforming these industries for the better.

Culturally, it seems that we have also left behind the last century's penchant for hedonism, exemplified by a generation of entertainers who rose to prominence with great wealth in the 1970s. Two such hellraisers were veteran British actor Oliver Reed and drummer for The Who Keith Moon (pictured), who first came together as co-stars in The Who's 1975 cinematic rock opera "Tommy." According to "Hellraisers" author Robert Sellers, Oliver Reed was friends with the movie's director Ken Russell, who brought the actor to the band's attention as suitable casting for the project.

However, every line of "Tommy" was intended to be sung as if it were a classical opera, and Russell's suggestion that he cast Reed as the protagonist's uncle, Frank, caused some consternation among The Who rockers Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend: Apparently, Reed couldn't sing a note. Kieth Moon, however, supported the casting. At the time, both men were notorious for their heavy-drinking, hard-partying lifestyles, and Moon may have seen Reed as a kindred spirit who would help him indulge in debaucherous activities.

A shocking first meeting

Keith Moon was so keen to get to know his fellow alcohol-loving co-star that he made arrangements to visit Oliver Reed at his home in Surrey, England: Broome Hall. a sprawling 19th-century country house with stables and horses which had been previously owned by numerous British noblemen.

According to Tony Fletcher's biography "Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend," the Who drummer was excited to meet Reed, whose television appearances and acting roles — increasingly as a leading man in numerous films during the early 1970s — portrayed him as a charming and charismatic figure. Reed, however, had an aristocratic background, and Fletcher argues that the actor would have had little knowledge of popular music, The Who, or of Moon as a rock 'n' roll icon.

Reed was reportedly taking a bath at the time of Moon's arrival. The well-monied rockstar had opted to make an entrance by arriving by helicopter, the noise of which terrified Reed's horses and prompted the actor to run out of the house semi-naked brandishing a huge antique sword at Moon and his companions. Moon — whose own love of chaos and violence was legendary — apparently welcomed the attack, which, bizarrely, meant the two men started their relationship on the right foot.

"We just fell for each other directly we saw each other," Reed told Fletcher. "He was the path I was looking for. Keith Moon was a fellow who convinced me that there is a sense of the bizarre in life. That should not and will not be taken seriously. It can be taken seriously inasmuch as there is pain and there is laughter and there is sweetness, but in between those olfactory senses, and sense of smell and hearing, that there is a sense of the bizarre."

Pranks and violence

The chaos, carnage, and downright craziness that characterized the friendship between Keith Moon and Oliver Reed has become legendary, almost mythic — indeed, one account goes that, as well as attacking Moon with a sword, Reed was fond of taking potshots at The Who drummer's helicopter with a double-barrelled shotgun. And, while Moon later claimed that Reed had been instrumental in improving his acting technique on the set of "Tommy," it was their mutual love of dissolution and derangement that really brought the two men together.

Per Fletcher's biography of Moon, one of Reed's first inductions into the Who drummer's rock 'n' roll lifestyle was to help him haul a television out of his hotel window, startling a porter whose attention Moon had been trying to get but who had failed to answer the telephone in the hotel reception. And, things escalated from there: When the two were in Los Angeles, they kidnapped the British filmmaker David Puttnam, forcing him into a white Rolls Royce and driving him to the Pacific Coast Highway against his will. In another incident — that would see Reed and Moon rightly criticized today — at Reed's behest Moon dropped his trousers in the middle of a Hollywood restaurant to prove that he was uncircumcised: a stunt meant to unnerve their fellow diners, according to Fletcher.

The tee-totaling tortoise

Keith Moon's penchant for violence and destruction eclipsed that of Oliver Reed, and on one occasion, when Reed had invited Moon to a party at the glitzy Beverley Wilshire Hotel in Beverley Hills, Moon caused such untold destruction to the dining room — such as smashing chandeliers with chairs and badly injuring his hand in the process — that Reed was shocked by his behavior, according to Tony Fletcher. It goes without saying that such stunts were fueled largely by copious amounts of alcohol, consumed with a revolving cast of drinking partners, celebrity or otherwise.

And, one of the longest-serving of Keith Moon and Oliver Reed's party companions wasn't even human. Both men were animal lovers, and according to their mutual friend Ken Russell, the two hellraisers were often joined during their marathon drinking sessions by a tortoise: a typically surreal gift from Reed to Moon. When drinking whisky, Reed or Moon would fill a glass and place it on the tortoise's shell. The tortoise would then walk slowly from one end of the table to the other, at which point the other man would down the glass, refill it, and send it on the back on the tortoise to his drinking partner. It was reportedly a fanciful tactic to slow their drinking. Russell also claims that the two would use the tortoise to cover their modesty when walking naked down hotel hallways.

A parting gift

Keith Moon and Oliver Reed's hell-raising antics had to go on hiatus at one point, when Moon relocated along with his Who bandmates to live in Los Angeles, leaving Reed behind in England. However, Moon made sure to leave his friend and drinking partner with a bizarre parting gesture, and some strange gifts to remember him by: a huge fiberglass rhinoceros, and Moon's dog, Beanbag, which was attached to the rhino by his leash with a note reading: "Gone to America. Please look after my pets." (via YouTube)

While the incident has been recounted several times as perhaps a final example of one of Moon's japes, the fact was that the drummer was having a difficult time dealing with his alcoholism. His parting with Britain and Reed may have been an attempt to curb his lifestyle of excess and to try and get himself well again, according to Fletcher. Reed reportedly cared for Beanbag — and the rhinoceros — for many years after Moon imparted them to him.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Keith Moon's death left Oliver Reed broken hearted

Keith Moon died tragically on September 7, 1978, at the age of just 32, of an overdose of the drug Heminevrin, according to his official website. In a tragic twist, the drug had been prescribed to help him overcome the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. His death was ruled an accident. According to "Evil Spirits," the biography of Oliver Reed, Moon's death had a profound impact on the actor, frightening him and giving him a sense of his own mortality.

In the years that followed, Reed praised Moon for opening up the world in all its strangeness to him, and for the positive impact he'd had on his life. "I knew the way to the bar, but not to the bizarre. His shadow is always on the sunny side of the street with me, always, because of that path that he showed me," (via "Moon, Life and Death of a Rock Legend"). Reed died in 1999 at the age of 61 while filming his final movie, "Gladiator," in Malta, after a night of heavy drinking in a nearby bar.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).