Oliver Reed given a rousing send-off in Cork

 

An explosive life deserves an explosive finale. That's why the party in the small Co Cork village of Churchtown finished only at lunchtime yesterday. Actor Oliver Reed was buried beneath a beech tree at Churchtown Cemetery, not far from his favourite pub, O'Brien's.

Reed came to live in Churchtown six years ago. But the hamlet never expected anything like this. Up to 500 friends from all over the world, as well as family members, including his wife, Josephine, crushed into the Church of St James in Mallow on Saturday for the simple funeral service, which included hymns and tributes.

Outside the church, more than 1,000 people gathered in the hope of catching a glimpse of celebrities. In the event, film director Michael Winner, who cast Reed in Parting Shots - his last film - and Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, the former world snooker champion, looking frail and in ill-health, were the two most celebrated figures in the congregation. Higgins, who is understood to be suffering from terminal cancer, was advised not to travel to Cork for the funeral, but refused to miss it.

Michael Winner said he was privileged to say farewell to an actor and friend who had lived life in the manner of his own choosing. Few people could make that claim, he added. Alex Higgins described Reed as a charismatic friend who enlivened the lives of those he encountered.

In the church, Oliver Reed's brother, Simon, who travelled from Rome for the funeral, said that Oliver, whom he adored - "he was a god to me" - had lived an exciting and exhilarating life. Some people held that his life was wasted and sad, but nothing could be further from the truth. He went on: "Oliver taught me a lot more than just about having a drink. He was innovative, very, very funny and very talented. He lived life as if it were a party. The best way to remember him now is to have another one - the mother of all parties."

The Rev Robert Kingston told the congregation that Reed's cup had overflowed in many ways, not least in terms of talent. Everyone, he said, would have to drink wine in Heaven eventually.

The hymns included Abide With Me, Amazing Grace and All Things Bright and Beautiful. As the hearse left the church, a few bars of Consider Yourself At Home could be heard in the air - Reed was one of the stars of the musical Oliver.

Then it was party time - the venue, Castle McCarthy, Reed's home, where a marquee had been erected in the grounds. Food was served throughout the night and the drink flowed freely. But that was the way the 61-year-old actor, who died suddenly in a bar in Malta two weeks ago, would have wanted it.