Beloved John Hurt passed away from pancreatic cancer on Friday night at the age of 77. Stage, screen, and television actor, he felt that no role was too little for him, giving audiences a show of his wide range and enabling him to stay relevant to generations young and old.
John Vincent Hurt was born January 22, 1940 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England to parents who included a mathematician that would eventually be cloaked by the church. Even though he lived near the cinema, his parents did not allow him to visit often.
His first taste of acting was at his prep school in Kent, which he described as “so high Anglo-Catholic it was flying.” Hurt’s role was a girl in a production of Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird. “I felt an extraordinary feeling that I was in the place I was meant to be,” he later recalled.
In 1960, Hurt received a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which finally won his parents over on the idea of an acting career. He fell in love with French cinema while studying in London.
Hurt worked his way through small TV parts and theatre; however, his first significant role was as Richard Rich in the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons. After more roles, he was cast as an English junkie in 1978’s Midnight Express, which won him a BAFTA and Golden Globe for best supporting actor and a nomination for an Oscar. However, it was the following year’s role as Kane, the crew member of the Nostromo in the Ridley-Scott directed Alien that made the most permanent impact on popular culture. In 1980, his role as a man with severe physical deformities in The Elephant Man won him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, but he lost to Robert de Niro for Raging Bull.
Hurt continued to take roles that spanned all types characters. As author Quentin Crisp (whom he portrayed in the 1975’s TV drama, The Naked Civil Servant) pointed out, Hurt seemed to “specialize in victims.” Hurt could go from films like Heaven’s Gate and The Osterman Weekend, to comedies like History of the World Part 1 and Mr. Forbrush and the Penguins, to voice acting in The Black Cauldron, Waterhship Down, and The Lord of the Rings, to genre in Hellboy and V for Vendetta (just to name a few in each of these categories). He even spoofed his role from Aliens in Spaceballs.
Most recently, the younger generation has been introduced to this great actor as he portrayed wand maker Mr. Ollivander in the Harry Potter series and The Doctor/The War Doctor in Doctor Who.
But these are just a small handful of the over 120 films Hurt has appeared in, as well as the numerous television and stage roles, over his six-decade career. His work was recognized in 2012 with a special BAFTA for outstanding British Contribution to Cinema and a knight hood in 2015.
Hurt is survived by his two sons, and Anwen Rees-Myers, his fourth wife of 12 years.