John Hurt, Two-Time Oscar Nominee, Is Dead at 77

Obituaries   John Hurt, Two-Time Oscar Nominee, Is Dead at 77 The stage and screen star was the winner of a Golden Globe Award for his performance in Midnight Express.
John Hurt
John Hurt Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock, Inc.

Sir John Hurt, the prolific British actor with the gravelly voice, died earlier this week at the age of 77 in his home in Norfolk, according to the BBC.

Mr. Hurt, who had undergone treatment for pancreatic cancer in 2015, boasted more than six decades in film, stage, TV, and voice work. He was perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated work in the films Midnight Express and The Elephant Man, playing the roles of a heroin addict named Max and the disfigured John Merrick, respectively. The actor also received a Golden Globe Award for his performance in Midnight Express and BAFTA Awards for Elephant Man, Midnight Express, and The Naked Civil Servant.

One of Britain's most versatile actors, Mr. Hurt appeared in over 120 films. Born January 22, 1940, in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, he was a trained painter, but it was on the stage and screen where he would make his mark. In fact, he made both his stage and screen debuts in the same year: In 1962 he was seen on screen in The Wild and the Willing and onstage in London in Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger.

Although he was acclaimed for his work in the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, it was his portrayal of British gay icon Quentin Crisp in the 1975 television play The Naked Civil Servant that was a breakthrough role.

Among his numerous other TV and film credits were I, Claudius (1976), Alien (1979), Scandal (1989), and Garrick Ollivander in the first two Harry Potter films. Mr. Hurt, who was awarded the BAFTA Film Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema in 2012, was most recently seen as the priest who gives counsel to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie.

In May 2002 Mr. Hurt made his long-awaited U.S. theatre debut in Brian Friel's one-act, Afterplay, at Charleston, South Carolina's annual arts event, the Spoleto Festival. He graced the English and Irish stages in productions of A Month in the Country, The Seagull, Romeo and Juliet, Travesties, Man and Superman, and The Caretaker. In summer 2001, a production of Krapp's Last Tape starring Mr. Hurt was rumored to be heading to Off-Broadway, but the transfer from London never materialized.

In 2012, Mr. Hurt did star in a production of the Samuel Beckett play on this side of the Atlantic when the The Gate Theatre Dublin's production of Krapp's Last Tape played Los Angeles' Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre. The rumination on age, regret, and unrealized dreams was directed by Gate director Michael Colgan. Mr. Hurt starred in several productions for the Gate Theatre, including Afterplay and London Vertigo.

In an April 2000 interview with U.K.'s The Guardian, Mr. Hurt explained his thoughts on the differences between acting on stage and screen thusly: "A very good difference was put to me by Michael Colgan who is the artistic director of the Gate theatre in Dublin under whose auspices Krapp's Last Tape was done. And he said: `When you've found your theatrical muscle again, then you're really going to begin to enjoy it.' And the thing is, it's rather like two different sports, you use two completely different sets of muscles, and it's the best analogy that I've come across."

In July 2016 Mr. Hurt withdrew from a previously announced summer production of The Entertainer, to be directed by Rob Ashford at the West End's Garrick Theatre. In a statement at that time, the actor said, "I have recently been in hospital with an intestinal complaint and although I am much improved and on the road to a full recovery, my doctors have advised that it is too soon for me to undertake a lengthy and arduous stage role. It is therefore with great sadness and disappointment that I must withdraw from The Entertainer. I would like to send Ken [Branagh], Rob and the entire company my love and very best wishes for a happy and successful production of a wonderful play.”

Sir John Hurt's honors were numerous. In 2004 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and in 2015 he was knighted for his services to drama.

In a statement to the BBC, Mr. Hurt's fourth wife, Anwen Rees-Myers, a former actor and classical pianist he married in 2005, said, "John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit…He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him." He is also survived by his two sons, Alexander and Nick, from his third marriage to Jo Dalton.

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