Many of you have probably already heard the sad news of the passing of actor John Hurt. He died Friday at the age of 77. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2015, but announced four months later that the disease was in remission after undergoing treatment. The cause of death has not yet been announced.
Mr. Hurt is survived by his wife, Anwen Rees-Myers, and his two sons, Alexander and Nicholas Hurt, from a previous marriage.
In a career that spanned six decades, Sir John received two Oscar nominations, a Golden Globe for best actor in a supporting role in Midnight Express and three BAFTA awards for various TV and film roles. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts presented Hurt with lifetime achievement award in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to British cinema. He was knighted in 2015 for his services to drama and was reportedly working up to the time of his death.
Of course a list of awards and honors are all well and good. But it is the performances that we will remember and cherish. Let’s look at just a sampling of over two hundred credits in the long and outstanding career of John Hurt.
The Naked Civil Servant – 1975
Hurt portrayed English writer and anecdoctalist Quentin Crisp who publicly declared his homosexuality in the highly conservative environment of 1930’s and 40’s England. This was during a time when being openly gay was still an offense punishable by imprisonment in the UK.
In 2009, John reprised this role in An Englishman in New York, which chronicled the latter years of Crisp's life spent in New York City.
The Elephant Man – 1980
In another biopic, Hurt played John Merrick, a man treated by Victorian London society as a sideshow freak due to his physical deformities and speech impediments. Despite being rescued and then evaluated to be a man of advanced intellect, Merrick could not escape the tragedy of his malformed body. John received an Oscar nomination for this heart-breaking performance.
Spaceballs – 1987
While Sir John was touted for his dramatic talents, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t do comedy. In fact he made a cameo appearance in Mel Brooks' sci-fi parody, paying homage to an unforgettable scene from an earlier and scarier film called Alien.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – 2001
A whole new audience became acquainted with Hurt when he took on the small but significant role of Harry Potter's Mr. Ollivander, the wand maker with a tumbledown shop located in Diagon Alley. From him we learned that “The wand chooses the wizard” and he foretold of young Harry Potter’s future greatness.
V for Vendetta – 2005
As High Chancellor Adam Sutler, John chills audiences as the ruthless dictator of Britain’s fascist police state. Sutler manipulated his way into power by secretly attacking his own people then promising to restore order. Once in charge he sets on a path of genocide and forces many to live in fear of the government, until he is eventually exposed.
Some may recall that Hurt played an antithetical role in another dystopian film; that of Winston Smith, a victim of the state in the film adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Doctor Who – 2013
Finally we look at one of the most British of roles any actor can attempt, that of The Doctor! Sir John became the War Doctor which was, according to the BBC One site, “a choice made by the Eighth Doctor… to become a warrior.” He believed he had performed an unthinkable act to end the Time War between the Daleks and his home planet of Gallifrey. However, with a little help from his future selves and something I’m sure had to do with time streams, he avoided the horrific act, whether or not he can remember it.
This tribute is but a drop in the bucket considering such an illustrious career. Hurt humbly described his work in this way. “Pretending to be other people is my game and that to me is the essence of the whole business of acting.”
Please share your memories and favorite roles of John Hurt with us in the comments section. He will be greatly missed, but thanks to his amazing body of work, never forgotten.