The Watchers

The Watchers

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Sir John Hurt (1940-2017)

We at the Watchers are very sad to report the death of acting legend Sir John Hurt, who has passed away at the age of 77. 

In a career spanning six decades, Hurt had an amazingly diverse filmography, taking in sci-fi, horror, fantasy, drama and comedy, all done with style. His deep rich voice was distinctive and instantly recognisable.  

Born in 1940 in Chesterfield, Hurt was originally encouraged by his parents to become an art teacher, so he enrolled at Grimsby Art School and later won a scholarship to study at St Martin's School of Art in London. In 1960, he won a scholarship to RADA and studied there for two years, making his film debut in 1962 as Phil Corbett in The Wild And The Willing. In 1966, he had his first major film role, playing Richard Rich in A Man For All Seasons opposite Paul Scofield and Wendy Hiller. In 1971, he played the ill-fated Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place to great acclaim and was nominated for his first BAFTA film award for the role.

In 1975, Hurt took the role of the flamboyant writer Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, a television adaptation of Crisp's autobiography. In a career as vast as Hurt's, this is one role he is best known for although was initially warned against taking such a controversial role saying it might end his career. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth. He won the BAFTA Television Award for Best Actor for his role and reprised his role in 2009 for An Englishman In New York, chronicling Crisp's later years.

After a spectacular turn as the Roman emperor Caligula in the TV mini-series I, Claudius, Hurt then went on to star in Alan Parker's 1978 film Midnight Express as an English heroin addict incarcerated in a Turkish jail. He won a BAFTA Film Award and a Golden Globe for his supporting turn and also gained his first Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor), although he lost to Christopher Walken (for The Deer Hunter). Also in 1978, he provided the voice of Aragorn for an animated version of The Lord Of The Rings and the voice of Hazel for the animated version of Watership Down

In 1979, he was part of one of the most iconic and shocking moments in cinema history: the chest-burster scene in Alien.There appears to be some truth in the urban legend that only he and the crew knew what was going to happen- apparently the cast were informed that the alien would appear but not how much blood there would be or where it would go (Veronica Cartwright's reaction is for real). Hurt parodied the scene several years later in Spaceballs.

In 1980, he was nominated for his second Oscar (this time for Best Actor) for his lead role in The Elephant Man, playing the deformed John Merrick. He won his second BAFTA Film Award and was also nominated for the Golden Globe for this role (although lost out on the Oscar to Robert De Niro for Raging Bull). The detailed make-up took between seven to eight hours to apply and two to remove, meaning Hurt would often arrive on set at 5am and not leave until midnight. After his first day in the make-up, he allegedly called his wife at the time, saying, "I think they finally managed to make me hate acting."

He also played The Fool to Laurence Olivier's King Lear and played a brilliant Winston Smith in Michael Radford's adaptation of 1984. He provided the voice of the Horned King in The Black Cauldron, played The Storyteller in Jim Henson's series of the same name and finished off the Eighties by playing Stephen Ward in Scandal, the film about the Profumo Affair. Throughout the 1990s, he appeared in films as diverse as The Field, Rob Roy, King Ralph, Love And Death On Long Island, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues and Contact.

In 2001, Hurt appeared as wand-maker Mr Ollivander in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (and would go on to reprise his role in both Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows films). He also appeared as Professor Bruttenholm in both Hellboy films. He appeared in thrillers The Skeleton Key and The Oxford Murders, narrated Lars Von Trier's Dogville and Manderlay and put in a towering performance as Chancellor Adam Sutler in the rather brilliant V For Vendetta.

In 2008, Hurt provided the voice of The Great Dragon for the television series Merlin which ran for five series and then put in a ferocious turn as the foul-mouthed Old Man Peanut in crime thriller 44 Inch Chest, a film which truly has to be seen to be believed. He was also the lead in the chilling Whistle And I'll Come To You (based on the M.R. James short story) then appeared in Melancholia and as Control in the 2011 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He also appeared as Christopher Marlowe in Jim Jarmusch's vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive.

In 2013, Hurt surprised a lot of people by taking a role in Doctor Who. The surprise was made even more by the reveal that he would be playing... The Doctor! To cover Christopher Eccleston's refusal to appear in the fiftieth anniversary special, a new character was created- a regeneration of the Doctor which he doesn't speak about, known only as The War Doctor- which was played by Hurt. As a grizzled veteran of the Time War, determined to say 'no more', he is superb as a world-weary old soldier. Hurt has reprised his role as the War Doctor for several audio stories by Big Finish. 

One of his last film roles was in Jackie, as the Priest who counsels the former First Lady through her grief. At the time of his passing, he has several projects still in production, including playing Neville Chamberlain opposite Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

In 2012, Hurt was awarded a BAFTA for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema and was knighted in 2015 for his services to drama. 

A brilliant actor who will be much missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

Rhys, Matt & Tez
The Watchers

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