Saturday, 28 January 2017

John Hurt, Oscar-nominated star of 'The Elephant Man,' dies at 77

John Hurt, the wiry English actor who played a drug addict in "Midnight Express," Kane in "Alien," the title character in "The Elephant Man," and Winston Smith in "Nineteen Eighty-Four," has died, according to multiple media reports. He was 77.

Hurt had disclosed in 2015 that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Mel Brooks, executive producer of "The Elephant Man," tweeted that he was a "truly magnificent talent."
He played Mr. Ollivander, the wand-maker in the first Harry Potter film, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," and for parts 1 and 2 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," however his scenes in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" were cut.
Hurt was twice nominated for Oscars, the first time in 1979 for his supporting role in "Midnight Express," the second time in 1981 for "The Elephant Man." In 2012 he received a BAFTA Award for outstanding British contribution to cinema.


The actor had the pale, haunted look of a man who is perpetually sleep deprived, but he used his craggy features to his advantage. Reviewing the 2011 feature adaptation of John le Carre's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," in which Hurt played Control, the head of MI6, the New York Times revealed admiration for the actor's visage: Control "explains his theory about the mole, the folds in Mr. Hurt's magnificent face sagging a bit lower. That face, a crevassed landscape that suggests sorrow and history, has the granitic grandeur of W.H. Auden in his later life. In tandem with Mr. Hurt's sonorously melancholic voice (and its useful undertones of hysteria), it is a face that, when used by a filmmaker like Mr. Alfredson, speaks volumes about a character who would otherwise take reams of written dialogue to discover."


But, of course, there was more to Hurt than his memorable appearance; Michael Caton-Jones, who directed the actor in several films, described him to the U.K.'s the Guardian in 2006 in this way: "One of the greatest screen actors ever, and one of the bravest — because he's all about honest emotion. People think actors have to pretend or lie. The best actors, like John, know they have to search for the truth."
In addition to "Alien," Hurt appeared in a number of other high-profile fantasy or science fiction films, including "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (in which he played Jones' aged and, for much of the movie, befuddled colleague Dr. Oxley), "V for Vendetta," "Hellboy," and Brett Ratner's 2014 Dwayne Johnson-starrer "Hercules." He also did a three-episode arc on the BBC's "Doctor Who" in 2013.
Hurt also appeared in Bong Joon-ho's genre-bending 2013 science fiction film "Snowpiercer," as a sort of an eminence grise to the rebels aboard the train that endlessly circles the snowscapes of a post-apocalyptic Earth.
He most recently played a priest opposite Natalie Portman in Pablo Larraín's 2016 biographical drama "Jackie."
Hurt was slowly building his career in the film and TV career in the 1960s and '70s. He was first recognized for a supporting role as a young schemer in the classic film "A Man for All Seasons" in 1966, and he played a man unfairly accused of murder in 1971's "10 Rillington Place," drawing his first BAFTA nomination. In 1975 he significantly upped his profile by starring in the adaptation of "The Naked Civil Servant," Quentin Crisp's memoir about living openly as a gay man in England in the 1930s and '40s, winning the actor his first BAFTA TV Award. (Decades later, Hurt would reprise the role of Crisp in 2009's "An Englishman in New York," about the writer's later years living in Manhattan, and drew another BAFTA TV nomination.)


Also fueling Hurt's rise was a frighteningly effective turn as the blood- and sex-crazed Roman emperor Caligula in "I, Claudius," which aired on PBS in 1977. The sunken-cheeked actor memorably played a drug addict who befriends the central character in a Turkish prison in "Midnight Express," drawing an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA win, and he provided the moving lead voice of Hazel for the animated feature version of "Watership Down," both in 1978.

The actor actually had a fairly small role in Ridley Scott's "Alien," but the film's exceptional success at the box office coupled with the spectacular way in which his character dies in the film — with the alien shockingly bursting from his chest — guaranteed Hurt a level of visibility he had never achieved before. Hurt, who drew yet another BAFTA nomination for the role, was 39 at the time but looked older.

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