Sometimes an actor stumbles into a role that defines a career. Ron Moody, who died Thursday at the age of 91, sang his way in. A journeyman British movie and television actor and musical revue performer, he was 36 in 1960 when he accepted the role of Fagin, master of a gang of child pickpockets, in Lionel Bart’s musical stage version of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” after two other actors had turned the part down. (Watch Moody perform “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” in the video below.)
“Fate destined me to play Fagin; it was the part of a lifetime,” Moody once said.
He played Fagin again in “Oliver!” Carol Reed’s Oscar-winning 1968 film. That time Fagin won Moody a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Moody had turned down an offer to go to Broadway with “Oliver!” after the musical’s London run because he felt it would trap him. But Fagin tapped him on the shoulder again and again. In 1984 the show was revived on Broadway, and Moody earned a Tony nomination as best actor and a Theatre World special award.
His wife gave no details of his death except to say that he exited “singing until the end.”