Jack Wild in Oliver!
John Springer Collection/CORBIS
03/02/2006 at 11:00 AM EST
Actor Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger as a teenager in the 1968 Best Picture Oscar winner Oliver! before going on to star on TV's H.R. Pufnstuf, died of cancer in London, his agent announced Thursday. He was 53.
Wild was only 16 when he was nominated for his supporting actor role in the Dickens musical, in which he sang the familiar songs "Consider Yourself" and "I'd Do Anything." He then went on to star in the American children's TV series and in several films before his career began to derail, in part because of excessive drinking from an early age, reports Reuters.
"Jack died peacefully at midnight last night after a long battle with oral cancer," said agent Alex Jay. "He always said he was an entertainer. He wanted (Scott Joplin's ragtime tune) 'The Entertainer' to be played at his funeral."
Ron Moody, who costarred with Wild as Fagin in Oliver!, tells PEOPLE: "I think he was a great performer. He had enormous potential and it is a sad loss."
Wild, also a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and underwent an operation in 2004 to remove part of his tongue and several vocal cords. As a result he lost his speech, but appeared on stage after the surgery miming his part in a pantomime.
Last year he married his long-term partner Claire.