Harry Potter fans know him as Mr. Ollivander. Alien fans know him as Kane. Hellboy fans will recognize him instantly as Professor Broom. Whovians call him The War Doctor. These were just a few of English actor John Hurt’s most prominent roles. But today, British newspapers received official reports of Hurt’s death. Hurt was 77 years old.
Sir John Hurt was always a welcome presence on the screen, even when he was only narrating or voice acting. His gravelly, warm tone was unmistakable. Born in 1940 in Derbyshire, England, Hurt abandoned a potential career in art teaching to act in London. After building a life acting in British productions, Hurt eventually won global acclaim for his role in The Elephant Man. This 1980 masterwork from filmmaker David Lynch saw John Hurt transformed into Joseph Merrick, the severely deformed sideshow performer who became a curiosity in the medical community in the late 1800s. Hurt was nominated for an Oscar for his performance and nominated again two years later for Midnight Express.
Fan Contributor Managing Editor Nick Nunziata had this to say about Hurt’s passing:
“First, let’s get this out of the way. You can’t understate the versatility and vulnerability of John Hurt over fifty years of roles. He was larger than life, frail and invisible, naughty, nice, and everything in between. That voice was his weapon. Coupled with those eyes he could command the screen in a way few could, but what seemed to give him real joy was disappearing into the collective. He was a chameleon that made it all about the work, and the work was so good. A career with The Elephant Man, I, Claudius, Watership Down, Alien, and 1984 is enough.
But to then embrace 80’s cheese, magically balance it with prestige pictures, and lend his gravitas to roles beneath him is just plain admirable. He was a survivor in an industry that kneecaps talent. I had the great fortune of spending time on the Hellboy set, as well as during its post-production and a few subsequent events leading up to the film’s release. My brief time with John Hurt could have been a real bummer. The guy had seen everything, done everything. But what did he do? He listened. Smiled. Engaged. He was as classy as a person could want. He had a great career and life, but with all that in mind, he still had a lot left to give.”
In 2015, Hurt announced that his doctors had diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer. He began treatment and received knighthood later that year at the age of 75. While his death wasn’t entirely unexpected, it is still a tremendous blow. John Hurt was a legend. His fans will miss him dearly, and you can count us among them.