Sir John Hurt, the legendary British actor, has passed away at the age of 77. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015.
Hurt has appeared in over 200 roles, although he always seemed to have a soft spot for science fiction and fantasy. Some of his most notable credits include:
- Ollivander, the wand maker from the Harry Potter franchise
- Professor Trevor from the Hellboy franchise
- John Merrick in The Elephant Man
- Max in Midnight Express
Seriously, over 200 roles. V for Vendetta, Merlin, Watership Down, Spaceballs, Doctor Who, King Ralph. It seems almost more difficult to watch something without John Hurt in it.
All of these roles certainly have Hurt’s stamp on it, but he also gets to lay claim to one of the most iconic film roles of all time: Kane in the original Alien film. That’s John Hurt, just enjoying a nice dinner, when suddenly he begins convulsing on the table before the xenomorph blasts out of his chest in front of his crew mates. The myth behind the scene holds that Hurt was the only actor who knew just how the alien would emerge, so the looks of shock and horror on his co-stars’ faces were somewhat genuine.
For me, the most iconic role Hurt took on was that of Caligula in the PBS miniseries I, Claudius. I tracked it down after reading the excellent novel by Robert Graves, and I distinctly remember John Hurt playing Caligula with this grandiose level of insanity and vulnerability that made you both terrified of him and sad for him. He and Derek Jacobi played brilliantly off one another, and his ridiculous, golden bikini-clad dance scene is a tough one to shake from your memory.
John Hurt was nominated for Academy Awards for both his roles in The Elephant Man and Midnight Express, although he won neither. He did win several other awards, including multiple BAFTAs. In 2012, he was awarded what is essentially BAFTA’s lifetime achievement award: The “Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema” award.
So tonight, while enjoying your dinner, raise a glass to the late, great John Hurt. He’s probably in more movies you have seen than almost anyone, and his contribution to the film world is a tremendous one indeed. RIP, you will be missed.
What’s your favorite John Hurt role? Let us know in the comments below.