Feature: Remembering John Hurt: His Life & Career


Originally published on The National Student on 30/01/17. 

Legendary British actor Sir John Hurt died last week at the age of 77. 

The Golden Globe and BAFTA winning performer, who graced our screens and stages with a series of iconic performances since the 1960s, passed away on Wednesday last week after a lengthy battle with poor health. 

Contemporary fans will most likely remember him for his turns as wand-maker Olivander in the Harry Potter series, or as the infamous War Doctor in some of the latest episodes of Doctor Who, but as expected, Hurt’s career charts back a lot further, all the way back to the early 60s. And whilst his first significant film role came in the 1966 multiple-Oscar winner A Man For All Seasons, his career really started to take shape some years later. 

In 1971 Hurt scored his first BAFTA nomination in a supporting role alongside the great Richard Attenborough in crime biopic 10 Rillington Place, and from there, things really kicked off. By the end of the decade he found himself both a Golden Globe and BAFTA winner, and an Academy Award-nominee for his now classic turns in Midnight Express and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man

In between the two he even found time to voice the original Aragorn in Ralph Bakshi’s early animated Lord of the Rings adaptation, and more notably, to co-star in Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon’s crazed sci-fi horror Alien. At the time the space-bound creature-feature was something of a gamble, but one that paid off immensely, gifting Hurt with one of his most memorable roles to date. He’s not on screen for long as Kane, but Hurt’s turn ultimately gave the genre one of its most magnificent twists ever, firmly marking himself out a place in the sci-fi hall of fame. 

As the 80s took hold Hurt turned towards more thoughtful roles, starring alongside the legendary Laurence Olivier in a TV twist on King Lear, and following it up with a lead turn in Michael Radford’s cinematic version of George Orwell’s literary classic 1984. Similarly around this time Hurt  became more and more known for his exemplary voice work, lending his refined tones to the likes of Watership Down and Disney’s troubled cult hit The Black Cauldron


This isn’t forgetting his occasional slip-ups though either. Hurt himself was the first to admit of his own “stinkers”, playfully adding that “you can’t regret it; there are always reasons for doing something, even if it’s just the location”. And even though his work with great directors like Jim Jarmusch, Robert Zemeckis, Guillermo del Toro and Lars von Trier continued all the way through to the 21st-century, he started to become a memorable face around Hollywood in all sorts of varied roles. 

From even more narrator work, to turns in Hellboy, Indiana Jones, Immortals and Hercules, Hurt never strayed away from the huge blockbusters that started to dominate the markets more and more, instead using them to fund his other pursuits in shorts and smaller projects like Snowpiercer and most recently, Oscar-nominee Jackie

And with four of his latest performances still awaiting release, including a much-hyped turn as Neville Chamberlain in Joe Wright’s war-time drama Darkest Hour, we’re definitely yet to see the end of the acting legend, that is to say, if that is ever possible. 

No matter what you’re watching, whether it be a seminal horror hit, a Shakespearean drama, or frankly just The Tiger Movie, John Hurt’s endless passion for acting in all its forms will always be present. 

To quote the man himself, paraphrasing Beckett: “It’s not enough to die, one has to be forgotten as well”, and it feels true that no matter how many years ultimately pass, John Hurt is a name and a legend that will never, ever be forgotten. 


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