British actor Ron Moody, who was nominated for a best-actor Oscar and won a Golden Globe for his role as Fagin in musical Oliver!, died at the age of 91 on 11th June 2015. He left behind his wife, Therese Blackbourn Moody, and their six children.
Moody’s TV work included roles in Gunsmoke, Hart to Hart and Starsky & Hutch, as well as U.K. soap opera EastEnders. He famously turned down the lead role in BBC sci fi hit Doctor Who, a decision he later said he regretted. But was as Fagin, that Ron Moody will be most remembered. Elevated to stardom by his success, Ron could have made a career of playing Fagin, but he chose not to. After playing the part for a year, he decided to return to writing – his first love. It was the good fortune of the film “Oliver!” that Ron was ready to return to acting when the time came for casting. His original west end performance was by now legendary, and though fine actors had succeeded him in London and on Broadway, it was felt none through the years was his superior. Besides, thanks to the laps of time, he could approach the role with a new freshness. He was the producer’s first choice for the part. Ron has worked on numerous film, stage and television projects since his legendary performance as Fagin.
Born Ronald Moodnick to eastern European immigrants in Tottenham, north London, (his father changed the family surname to Moody in 1930) Moody died in hospital having been ill for some time. The Londoner got his first taste of showbusiness aged 16 when he worked as a wages clerk at Elstree studios.He had spent the war in the RAF before going on to study at the London School of Economics.
Years later, he remembered: “I went to the London School of Economics to study sociology and psychology on a serviceman’s grant. While there, I got dragged into taking part in a student revue and ended up writing, and appearing in, a few sketches. In short, I got the stage bug. Soon after, I was discovered in an end-of-term show by two writers who put me in their stage revue, and I’ve never looked back.”
He honed his craft in a string of theatrical roles before reluctantly auditioning for the role in Lionel Bart’s musical that made him a star. He said: “At first I never wanted to do it. They told me there was this musical of Oliver Twist so I went to see the Alec Guinness film (of Oliver Twist), which I found to be so anti-Semitic as to be unbearable. But Bart is as Jewish as I am and we both felt an obligation to get Fagin away from a viciously racial stereotype and instead make him what he really is – a crazy old Father Christmas gone wrong.”
Ron Moody also wrote novels and musicals of his own and kept working into his eighties, including a small role in EastEnders. He once said: “I think I’m a straight actor who occasionally does musicals; most people think I’m an eccentric comedian. It’s amazing how many years you can spend in this business just sorting out something as simple and basic as that. “I don’t think a professional agent or theatre manager would say my career had gone as well as perhaps it should have after that first Oliver! success, but then again I was never really intending to have a career in the professional theatre in the first place. Considering I set out to be a sociologist, I think I’ve really done quite well.”
Moody appeared in several children’s television series, including The Animals of Farthing Wood, Noah’s Island, Telebugs, Into the Labyrinth, and the Discworld series. Among his better known roles was that of Prime Minister Rupert Mountjoy in the comedy The Mouse on the Moon (1963), alongside Margaret Rutherford, with whom he appeared again the following year in Murder Most Foul (1964), one of Rutherford’s Miss Marple films. He played French entertainer and mime artist The Great Orlando in the 1963 Cliff Richard film Summer Holiday. He acted again with former Oliver! co-star Jack Wild in Flight of the Doves (1971).
He played Ippolit Vorobyaninov alongside Frank Langella (as Ostap Bender) in Mel Brooks’ version of The Twelve Chairs (1970). In 2003, he starred in the black comedy Paradise Grove alongside Rula Lenska, and played Edwin Caldecott, an old nemesis of Jim Branning on the BBC soap EastEnders. In 2005, he acted in the Big Finish Productions Doctor Who audio play Other Lives, playing the Duke of Wellington.
In 2004, the British ITV1 nostalgia series After They Were Famous hosted a documentary of the surviving cast of the film Oliver! Several of the film’s musical numbers were re-enacted. Moody, then 80 but still spry, and Jack Wild (seriously ill with oral cancer at the time) recreated their dance from the closing credits of the film.
Moody appeared in an episode of BBC1’s Casualty (aired on 30 January 2010) as a Scottish patient who had served with the Black Watch during the Second World War.
On 30 June 2010, Moody appeared on stage at the end of a performance of Cameron Mackintosh’s revival of Oliver! and made a humorous speech about the show’s 50th anniversary. He then reprised the “Pick a Pocket or Two” number with the cast.
His widow Therese said: “He brought joy to his family and to the hearts of many and will be greatly missed. He was singing until the end.”