John Hurt was an actor of such versatility — not to mention his indefatigable work ethic — that most of us must have a favorite Hurt cameo (even if it’s not among his ‘best’ performances).
In Memoriam: ￼￼?️John Hurt 1940 – 2017￼?️ ￼:“We’re all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly.”https://t.co/cofcXEX7Wc
— Cassandra Chaya Khan (@silvergrrrrl) January 28, 2017
A lovely memoir from Buzzfeed‘s Patrick Strudwick, “John Hurt Saved My Life”:
Dusk, in a sparse restaurant in Haraar, eastern Ethiopia. John Hurt is sitting across the table performing lines to me from The Naked Civil Servant.
His voice – that brandy and gravel baritone, the same one that in 1987 boomed out on AIDS public information adverts on TV warning people not to die from ignorance – reverberates around the restaurant…
… As the words slip from his mouth, now cradled by wrinkles, he conjures the defiance and vulnerability of Crisp so beautifully that my eyes fill. Hurt keeps going. He can see what this means to me. He has seen it a thousand times. Gay men would often approach him in the street to tell him how transformative it was for them to watch Crisp alive in Technicolor, in full, brazen mauve, sashaying down the street, all scarves and rouge, waving at sailors and giving bigots the middle finger.
The fact that most gay men are not fabulously camp was not the point. Hurt brought to life a template for defiance that saved people, including me…
To convey both the courage and vulnerabilities of outcasts takes an extraordinary person. During the week I spent with Hurt in Ethiopia I saw the extraordinary in him all day, every day. We were there because he was patron of a charity called Project Haraar, which sends doctors and surgeons to Ethiopia to perform surgery on children with severe facial disfigurements.
The head of the charity, who never forgot Hurt in The Elephant Man, approached him to become a patron, not thinking for a moment he would accept. Hurt agreed immediately.
I was sent by a newspaper to shadow Hurt and report on what we saw at the charity’s hospital in Addis Ababa, as well as at the convalescence clinic in the nearby countryside… What neither of us were expecting was what the true horror would be. Hurt, his beloved wife Anwen, and I were taken round the hospital to meet the children. Some had holes in their cheeks, destroyed by a flesh-eating infection called noma, through which they had to push their food in order to eat. Some were simply tiny, growth stunted by malnutrition not because they did not have access to food but because their disfigurements were so extreme that they physically could not eat properly. The smell from facial infections, in some of the cubicles, was almost overwhelming.
But it wasn’t any of this that hit John, Anwen, and me like a boxer’s punch. Watching Hurt meet those children, and how he interacted with them, revealed precisely what it was that knocked him back: their loneliness.
To see Hurt reach out and clasp their hands, to see their faces react with caution, bafflement, and then deep relief – the medicine of human touch – was to know that he was a great actor because his empathy ran so deep.
He did not talk much. In the entire week he did not show any signs of ego, narcissism, or histrionics – precisely what one might expect of a movie star – because he was too busy connecting with others. He watched those children with kindness. He sat and played with them. He laughed with them.
“When you meet them, because of their energy, of their personality, it’s not just an image of horror, it’s a whole person,” he said. “What is staggering is that they cope. That is profoundly moving. They are rejected and they still go on.” This, if anything, encapsulates the spirit of Hurt and his many courageous characters…
From Vanity Fair:
… A former art student who enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1960, Hurt paid his dues in British television before breaking through in 1966’s A Man for All Seasons, opposite Paul Scofield and Orson Welles. He earned his first BAFTA award in 1976, for playing gay author and ranconteur Quentin Crisp in the TV film The Naked Civil Servant; that same year he played notorious Roman emperor Caligula in the TV film classic I, Claudius.
As a trained actor with a resonant voice and an unmistakable screen presence, Hurt could be a leading man—as in the 1984 version of George Orwell’s 1984 and David Lynch‘s The Elephant Man—but may be more familiar to audiences as a supporting player, from the first, unlucky victim of the chestburster in 1979’s Alien to 2016’s Jackie, in which he plays a priest who has the ear of a mourning Jacqueline Kennedy. He earned Oscar nominations for his roles in 1979‘s Midnight Express, as a heroin addict doing time in a Turkish prison, and in The Elephant Man. He’ll also be remembered by a generation of children as the mysterious Mr. Ollivander, wand salesman, from the Harry Potter films. And thanks to a 2013 appearance as the War Doctor on Doctor Who, he will also forever belong to a legion of fans.
In the last decade of his career alone, Hurt worked with some of the world’s most fascinating directors, from Guillermo del Toro in the Hellboy series to Steven Spielberg on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to Lars von Trier on Melancholia to Joon-ho Bong on Snowpiercer….
Top 10 John Hurt Performances
He’s more beloved to me as the dragon Kilgarrah on BBC’s Merlin. I liked him in quite a few other roles, but his voice work was what brought Kilgarrah to life more than anything else. Especially that character’s vast amusement at Merlin’s learning curve as things progressed.
he is and always shall be the John Merrick.
Stephen Ward in Scandal.
Adam L Silverman
Its too bad Bakshi never finished the Lord of the Rings.
Caligula. Dear god what an actor he was.
@Omnes Omnibus: seconded
@Adam L Silverman: I hated, HATED, his go at it. You are daft.
The Thin Black Duke
Let’s not forget his sublime performance as Christopher Marlowe in Only Lovers Left Alive.
It’s not like I ever aspired be a hashish smuggler, but Midnight Express was a pretty good argument for “agin it”.
@The Thin Black Duke: Love that film.
@khead: I have only seen that once, long ago, and couldn’t tell you much about the story-line or even who the actors were. But don’t get me anywhere near a neck-high wall hook..! :-/
I’m partial to his appearance on Doctor Who simply because it gave him such an amazing role that only a show like Doctor Who could provide. He played an incarnation of the Doctor who had been fighting in the same War literally for centuries and was Jaded by to the point of despair while simultaneously he played the character as somehow younger than both Matt Smith and David Tennant, both of whom were decades younger than him but playing versions of his character that work chronologically older.
I suppose his role as Kane in Alien is too obvious, but a damn fine role it was.
You know, I realized the other day that Alien is just about the only movie where I know the name of every single cast member that appears on screen.
@Adam L Silverman:
I first saw him in A Man For All Seasons, playing a despicable character, and the second thing I saw him in was I, Claudius, as Caligula. When he showed up in Alien, I thought for sure he’d turn out to be a villain because of those two roles. Imagine my surprise when he was the first to die – oh so dramatically, too!
I loved him as the War Doctor, of course; he made me cry in that. Another fave: the reclusive billionaire Mr. Hadden, who saves Ellie Arroway’s SETI project in Contact.
I didn’t know about his charity work. All that talent and a genuinely fine human being, too!
Farewell, Mr. Hurt. You did good work.
Favorite John Hurt role – Caligula in I Claudius
Adam L Silverman
@Anne Laurie: I have the Doulton statuette of Aragorn.
Was also not a fan, though I was pretty young when I saw it. Saw “Wizards” as a bigger person and still think it’s amazing.
Your memory is a blessing, Mr. Hurt.
And for anyone who needs to get more dust out of their eyes, I’d never heard of the Moonlight movie, but listen to Mr. Ali show more grace and compassion in, like, 3 minutes than the deplorable cabinet members ever have.
I recently saw him in “Jackie”. He had a small role as a Catholic priest, but his performance was deeply compelling.
Thank you for your wonderful work.
He was also in Harry Potter
@Adam L Silverman: I would love to see a picture.
Adam L Silverman
@SFBayAreaGal: This is not a pic of mine, but mine looks just like it:
And I’ll go back and fix the spelling its Doulton, specifically Royal Doulton. They did a whole set:
And yes, Bilbo looks like the Barney Rubble of Hobbits…
Villago Delenda Est
@SFBayAreaGal: As the wandmaker, Ollivander.
He was Winston Smith opposite Richard Burton (Burton’s final role) in 1984’s 1984, which was filmed in the places and at the time Orwell envisioned.
He turned that upside down as Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta
He reprised his Alien role in Spaceballs. Hilariously.
A little movie probably few people ever saw, he starred opposite Ryan O’Neal in Partners, a dramedy about two police officers who went undercover to solve a series of murders in San Francisco’s gay community. He starts off as a very closeted man who blossoms when allowed to become himself. Wonderful comedic chops. And I think the movie was ahead of its time by depicting a wide range of gay men from queens to average joes.
Definitely Caligula in I, Clavdivs.
I remember him most in 1984…
@Villago Delenda Est:
I love that scene.
Rob Roy, Dead Man, Harry Potter, and on… so many little surprising roles. He always seemed to be popping up in the corners of the films. I really liked him for that. My fav will always be his demented portrayal of Caligula in I, Claudius.
I have only been able to watch The Elephant Man twice. It will rip your heart up.
That movie made me watch almost everything John Hurt appeared in.