Goodbye John Hurt

Some actors can leave a legacy filled with critically acclaimed roles, be it stage, TV, or film. Some other actors work their entire lives, even making a really healthy and comfortable living for themselves, all the while remaining somewhat anonymous. Then are those actors, who through pure chance, land roles that put them in a class all by themselves. They may not have shelves filled with awards for their performances. Instead they play parts that earn a permanent place in the hearts of fans. They become identified with a singular, or even multiple, genre. Such is the case of John Hurt, who sadly passed away at the age of 77.

Born in 1940, Hurt had an introverted personality. He discovered acting at a young age, and in 1962 made his debut on the stage in Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger. From there he continued to hone his craft on the stage, and in 1975 made his way into television where he made his big break playing Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant. It was here where the opportunities really started to become available to him.

In 1979 he made his first step into the sci-fi genre by appearing as the highly memorable character of Kane, the chest-bursting victim in Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror, Alien. Even though Hurt continued to act in other genres, he was becoming immediately recognizable in popular culture. Showing that he had a fun sense of humor, he sort of reprised his role of Kane in the Mel Brooks’ parody Spaceballs, mocking his character’s death from Alien. While he continued to act in a plethora of dramatic films, he made a return to speculative fiction as S.R. Hadden in the Robert Zemeckis film Contact, and despite the fact that he had only a small supporting role, he found a way to play the part with a “larger than life” approach, but not at the risk of overshadowing the only actor he shared any screen-time with, star Jodie Foster. However, his most memorable roles were yet to come…

In 2001 Hurt stepped into a role that would forever endear him in the hearts of children, the young at heart, and many in love with the fantasy genre, when he played the small part of the wizard Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Here again he showed how to inhabit a role, make the absolute most of your screen time, but never at the expense of the lead actors or the story. As Ollivander he gave us a character that most children would love to have as their grandfather. However, he showed movie-goers years later what type of diversity he had as an actor by delivering a truly “mean-spirited” performance in the Wachowski’s movie V for Vendetta as Adam Suttler, the fascist “High Chancellor.” Again, Hurt was able to provide us with a fully realized character, despite the fact that on screen there is very little material by which to show any proper character development. Even with that disadvantage, Hurt gave us a character that people could actually believe in, thereby solidifying Suttler as the chief antagonist, as well as the general plot of the movie.

In 2010 and 2011 Hurt reprised his role as Ollivander, but gave us a more vulnerable character (which makes sense given what his character had just gone through in the film) instead of the sweet, grandfatherly person we remember him from 10 years earlier, but in 2013 Hurt played a part that would crown his career in the genre of science fiction, when he became the first Oscar nominated actor to ever play the role of the Doctor in the world famous series Doctor Who. His approach to the part was unlike that of any other actor who played the role of the traveling Time Lord. Here he gave us a Doctor who was weary of the War he was fighting, and who made personal sacrifices in order to save the galaxy. He helped to re-define the Doctor, and yet make it work within the confines of the already established character, thereby earning a beloved place in the hearts of fans all over the world.

Fans at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter offering a moving tribute to Mr. Ollivander himself, the late John Hurt.

This is just a small sampling of his work. There are so many other memorable parts he has played, from voice over work as Aragorn in Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord Of The Rings, to Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm in Hellboy. These characters that he played, while they may not have earned him accolades from critics and judges alike, have instead helped to give a sense of immortality among fans. He has a few films left that are still in post-production, but it is his work in fantasy and science fiction that people will remember most.

Rest in peace John Hurt. You will be missed, but never forgotten!
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