John Hurt has died at the age of 77, his agent confirmed on Saturday (28 January).
The Bafta winning actor - best known for his roles in ‘Alien’, ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Elephant Man’ - had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2015.
While he initally bounced back from his diagnosis, he was forced to pull out of a production of ‘The Entertainer’ last July due to an intestinal complaint.
Speaking shortly after finding out he had cancer, John told the 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, and occupy our chair very briefly.”
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and actor Stephen Fry were among those to pay tribute on Twitter:
With his distinctive, rich voice and expressive features, John Hurt was one of Britain’s most successful actors, appearing in more than 120 films in total, over the course of a six-decade career.
Following his screen breakthrough in ‘A Man For All Seasons’ (1966), he made his name in a string of roles - Quentin Crisp in ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ (1975), John Merrick in the unbearably moving ‘The Elephant Man’ (1980), Winston Smith in the dystopian epic ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (1984), and Stephen Ward in the drama of the Profumo affair, ‘Scandal’ (1989).
Even those who hadn’t come across John Hurt before will never forget his role in Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979), his character Kane’s final stomach-churning scene often voted one of the most memorable in cinema history.
And he found a whole new fanbase with a younger generation when he took the role of wand-maker Mr Ollivander in several of the ‘Harry Potter’ films.
Most recently, he starred as Father Richard McSorley in Jackie, the biopic of President John F. Kennedy’s wife.
His expressive tones meant he was a regular voiceover artist, too, most distinctively as the heroic rabbit leader Hazel in the 1978 animation ‘Watership Down’. He could also be heard on such diverse material as a famous AIDS-warning commercial in the 1980s, and a concept album by instrumental group the Art of Noise, called ‘The Seduction of Claude Debussy’.
Born in Derbyshire, raised in Lincolnshire, John Hurt initially set out to study art, with a scholarship sending him to Saint Martin’s School in London. From there, he gained a scholarship to RADA, before gaining the first of his many TV roles, including an early walk-on in ‘Z Cars’.
He won his first Bafta Award for his portrayal of the singular Quentin Crisp in ‘The Naked Civil Servant’, and he seldom went without plaudits from then on. He earned his first Oscar nomination for the 1978 ‘Midnight Express’, his second came two years later for his stunning portrayal of John Merrick in David Lynch’s ‘The Elephant Man’. He also collected Bafta Awards for both these roles.
Other films included ‘V For Vendetta’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’, while TV roles included Caligula in the timeless ‘I Claudius’.
John Hurt was married four times, and had two sons. He was made a CBE in 2004 and knighted in 2015, the same year he first made public his cancer diagnosis.
Following his portrayal of John Merrick, he accepted the patronage of the Proteus Syndrome Foundation, a charity working for those suffering from similar forms of disfigurement.
As he approached his eighth decade, John Hurt showed no signs of slowing down. In 2008, he reprised one of his most distinctive roles, that of Quentin Crisp, for the later adventures of ‘An Englishman in New York’.
And it was fitting that this very British treasure joined in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations for ‘Doctor Who’, with writer Steven Moffat making him ‘the War Doctor’ - a seemingly forgotten incarnation of the Timelord. Even the most diehard of ‘Doctor Who’ fans didn’t quibble with the addition of this suitably quirky, unconventional but always appealing favourite to their ranks.