British actor Jack Wild enjoyed a unique career in film and television, but -- like many child stars who peak at an early age -- found it resolutely difficult to extend his success beyond his initial decade and traveled a hard road thereafter. A native of Roynton, England (near Oldham), Wild debuted on television at age 13 and landed a series of roles on British television, including Danny the Dragon (a recurring part as Gavin), One of the Unknown, and Z Cars. His breakthrough arrived at the hands of famed director Carol Reed (The Third Man), who tapped the diminutive performer (with a highly unique, elfin look) to portray The Artful Dodger opposite Mark Lester and Ron Moody in the blockbuster musical Oliver!, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1968. Unsurprisingly, the popularity of that role turned into a triumph for Wild, and in fact prompted another, equally successful turn in the trippy children's series H.R. Pufnstuf as Jimmy, a flutist who lives on a psychedelic island.
Sadly, Wild spent the following decades struggling to find steady work, and his roles grew less frequent and substantial. His problems were exacerbated by constant cigarette smoking and heavy drinking. Though the actor managed to completely sober up by the early '90s and landed a supporting turn as Morin in the Kevin Reynolds-directed Kevin Costner vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), the smoking continued unabated, and contributed to Wild's contraction of oral cancer in 2000. As a result of complications from this, he had his voice box and tongue completely removed, and thus spent the end of his life mute. Following extensive chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy, Wild died from the cancer at age 53 in 2006.