prolific actor John Hurt, RIP
It guts me to no end to report that the great British actor John Hurt passed away on January 25, just three days after his 77th birthday. For two decades, I have had fostered an admiration and adoration for this actor that some psychiatrists might say borders on psychopathy. I sit on a mountain of John Hurt movie posters, press kits, lobby cards, 8x10s, DVDs, and VHS-only releases that would make anyone feel uneasy. For me, this is my Bowie or Prince.
Though mostly recognized for his roles in such films as Alien (a role he reprised for Mel Brooks' Spaceballs), The Elephant Man, Midnight Express, the Harry Potter Series, and the Hellboy franchise, this man's 200-plus television and movie acting credits amount to a daunting tapestry of hits, misses, classics, and total shite. Yet, no matter the role, throughout his career he consistently brought a level nuance and dynamism that would elevate good roles to classics and some of the cringiest roles to something actually worth watching. Hurt broke barriers in 1975 when he took the role of British gay icon Quentin Crisp in the masterpiece TV movie The Naked Civil Servant. Though cautioned by many to turn down the role as too risky and a potential career-ender, his performance had the opposite effect. It propelled him into the pantheon of some of the world's greatest actors and landed him roles in some of the most important films of the late 70s/early 80s including Alien, Heavens Gate, The Elephant Man, and in the brilliant TV mini-series I, Claudius, based on Robert Graves's books I, Claudius and Claudius the God where Hurt played the role of of one of my other heroes, Caligula.
Though nearly impossible to select my favorite John Hurt movie, I have to say that the often overlooked Love and Death on Long Island has to be up there as a contender. I'll spare you my insights but I will leave you with the thoughts of Roger Ebert as they are nearly parallel to mine. Further, it's some of his less commercially successful roles that I find the most appealing. I urge anyone with an interest in this man's "B-Side" material to seek out gems like In Search of Gregory, Cry of the Penguins, 10 Rillington Place, The Ghoul, East of Elephant Rock, The Shout (about a guy who can scream so loud everyone and everything within earshot dies), Night Crossing, The Hit, and even something as culturally tone-deaf as Partners.
Hurt was also known for his raspy, gin and tobacco soaked voice. In addition to narrating a number of films and documentaries, he also loaned his voice to the the album The Seduction of Claude Debussy by The Art of Noise, which you can hear below. In one of my more annoying moments, when the AON brought the TSOCD tour to the Paradise in Boston in the late 90s, my friends and I brought with us about 200 photocopies of John Hurt's face and littered the venue with them.
RIP John Hurt. Your impact on my life and the lives of millions of others will live on forever. Below are some trailers and scenes some of my favorite John Hurt films.