John Hurt

Acclaimed character actor and Academy Award nominee John Hurt had notable roles in ‘A Man for All Seasons,’ ‘Midnight Express,’ ‘The Elephant Man,’ ‘Alien’ and ‘Harry Potter.’


John Hurt was born January 22, 1940 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England. He made his film and stage debuts in 1962. He had notable roles in A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Naked Servant (1977), Midnight Express (1978), and The Elephant Man (1980); for the latter two movies he received Academy Award nominations. The prolific actor also appeared in Alien (1979), Heaven's Gate (1980), The Osterman Weekend (1983), The Hit (1984), the 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell's 1984, three Harry Potter films and the biopic Jackie. In 2012, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts honored Hurt with a lifetime achievement award. He died on January 27, 2017 at the age of 77 after battling pancreatic cancer. 

Early Life and Studies

John Vincent Hurt was born on January 22, 1940, in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England. The son of an Anglican minister, Hurt had a sheltered, conservative upbringing. Despite living just across the street from a cinema, his parents did not allow Hurt to go to the movies. However, they did take him to see theatrical productions, and Hurt acted in school plays.

Though Hurt loved performing, his parents were worried about the risky nature of the acting profession. Instead, they pushed their son to study painting, with the goal of becoming an art teacher. Hurt first went to Grimsby Art School, then attended Central Saint Martin's College. However, Hurt still wanted to pursue acting. After receiving a scholarship, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and graduated in 1962.

In 2000, Hurt talked to The Guardian newspaper about his early desire to act, saying, "I was effused with a feeling of complete and total enjoyment and I felt that that's where I should be . . .I don't know what psychological terms I could use, but I felt absolutely in the right place. I felt in the center of myself and I felt that I could express myself in that way."

Acting Success

In 1962, John Hurt made his film debut in The Wild and the Willing and his first professional appearance on the London stage in Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger. In the following years, Hurt received acclaim for his stage work. Wider film success came in 1966 with his portrayal of the deceitful Richard Rich in A Man For All Seasons.

On the small screen, Hurt wowed audiences with his portrayal of British gay icon Quentin Crisp in the adaptation of Crisp's memoir The Naked Civil Servant in 1975. He went on to gain international fame with Midnight Express (1978). In the movie, he played Max, a heroin addict imprisoned in Turkey. Hurt's performance earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

In the sci-fi thriller Alien (1979), Hurt took on the memorable role of Kane, the first victim to have an alien burst out of his chest. Hurt would appear in a more humorous version of that scene in the Mel Brooks comedy spoof Spaceballs (1987).

In 1980, Hurt teamed up with director David Lynch to take on the title role in The Elephant Man. His portrayal of John Merrick in that film earned Hurt a second Academy Award nomination, this time for best actor.

Hurt's prolific film career included appearances in 1984 (1984), a film adaptation of George Orwell's novel, The Field (1990), Rob Roy (1995), Love and Death on Long Island (1997), Contact (1997) and Beyond the Gates (2005), among many others.

Hurt played the small but important role of Mr. Ollivander, a wand merchant, in several Harry Potter films. His other recent movies include V for Vendetta (2006), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011).

In 2012, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts gave Hurt a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to British film. Though best known for his movie appearances, Hurt also maintained a critically acclaimed stage career and made frequent television appearances.

In 2013, Hurt appeared in the cult favorite Doctor Who series as Doctor War. He appeared opposite Dwayne Johnson in the action epic Hercules the following year. Hurt also had a role in the dramatic action series The Last Panthers (2015). In 2016, he played a priest in the biopic Jackie about First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman).

Personal Life

Hurt has been married four times. He had two sons, Alexander John Vincent Hurt and Nicholas Dalton Hurt, from his third marriage.

In June 2015, Hurt announced that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After his diagnosis, he told Radio Times:  "I can't say I worry about mortality, but it's impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it. We're all just passing time."

Hurt died on January 27, 2017 at the age of 77. 

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