So Long, Elephant Man: British Icon Sir John Hurt Passes Away At 77

Credit: Associated Press

John Hurt has sadly joined the legion of stars who have left us.  The British actor passed away aged 77 finally losing his battle with pancreatic cancer.

Hurt was a stalwart of the stage and screen, making his London stage debut in Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger in 1962. The same year he appeared in his first film, The Wild and the Willing, followed by his role as the duplicitous baron Richard Rich in Oscar Best Picture winner A Man for All Seasons, which helped him become more widely known outside of the UK.

He went on to become known for his role as the vile and decadent Caligula in I, Claudius alongside other great luminaries such a Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart. He appeared in the 1978 movie Midnight Express, the story of an American college student caught drug trafficking and sent to prison in Turkey.   Hurt played fellow prisoner and heroin addict Max and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe win.

His 1979 role of Kane in Aliens began to cement Hurt’s place as an icon of  cinema.  Kane was the crew member who had the alien burst out of his stomach.

It was however his 1980 lead role of John Merrick in The Elephant Man that received eight Academy Award nominations, including one for Hurt as best actor.  Sadly he didn’t win it.   The role required a complete transformation and Hurt said at the time “It never occurred to me it would take eight hours for them to apply the full (prosthetic)  — virtually a working day in itself. There were 16 different pieces to that mask,” adding “With all that makeup on, I couldn’t be sure what I was doing. I had to rely totally on David ” referring to Director David Lynch.

Hurt also appeared in Hellboy, and as Christopher Marlow in Jim Jarmuch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.  He was the fascist leader of Great Britain in V for Vendetta  and was Professor Oxley in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Younger audiences knew him as Ollivander in the Harry Potter films.

He also left his mark on Doctor Who as The War Doctor.

He voiced a litany of works thanks to his deep smoky timbre-ed voice including The Tigger Movie , Manderlay The Lord of the Rings (in 1978), Watership Down and the Oscar-nominated short film The Gruffalo .  He was also the chorus for Henry V , one of  The Hollow Crown series of Shakespeare plays as well as the voice of the Dragon in the television series Merlin.

His most recent role was as a priest in the Oscar nominated biopic of President John F. Kennedy’s widow, Jackie. He had recently completed filming My Name is Lenny and was filming The Darkest Hour, a story of Winston Churchill in which he played former British PM Neville Chamberlain.

Hurt received a knighthood in 2015 as well as a lifetime achievement award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

He is survived by his wife of 12 years Anwen Rees-Myers and his two sons Alexander and Nicholas.

Jacie Anderson
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