On January 25, 2017, actor John Hurt died at the age of 77 in Norfolk, England. With a career spanning 60 years and over 120 movie and TV roles, the charismatic actor was considered to be one of the best at depicting outsiders. Among his most noteworthy roles are many performances that reflect this, including Alien, The Elephant Man, and Midnight Express. Even then, the actor was game for any role, giving it his all and bringing the character to life in invigorating fashion. He leaves behind an impressive and massive body of work that will leave audiences laughing and crying for generations to come. He may not always have the most recognizable face, but he always knew how to make movies better.
Hurt was born on January 22, 1940 in Chesterfield, England. His mother was an amateur actress and his father was a clergyman. Despite growing up near a cinema, his deeply religious parents forbid him from going there. Hurt was also not allowed to mingle with the other children, of whom his parents found to be "too common." He was eight when he discovered his passion for acting, which lead to his first role in a play called The Bluebird in which he starred as a little girl. As he grew older, Hurt was discouraged from acting and told to become an art teacher instead. He would go to college on an Art Teacher's Diploma at Grimsby Art School, which he mostly afforded by having his friends pose nude.
At 22, Hurt appeared in his first movie The Wild and the Willing. In 1966, he had his first major role in A Man For All Seasons, which would go on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. He also appeared in TV, most notably on The Naked Civil Servant: a role that would earn him a British Academy Television Award for Best Actor. In 1978, he starred in the prison drama Midnight Express. It was a critically acclaimed role that landed him a Golden Globe and BAFTA win for Best Supporting Actor. It was also his first Oscar nomination, of which he lost to Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter). Similarly, he would be nominated two years later for his role in The Elephant Man, winning another BAFTA but only receiving Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
For the rest of his career, he spent time going back and forth between live action and voice acting gigs. Among his most prominent work was as Kane in Alien for a scene that would come to be called "the chest burster" moment. It was a moment so iconic that he even lampooned it in the Mel Brooks comedy Spaceballs. Over the course of his career, he has died on screen more than 40 times. This makes him the actor with the most fatalities in history. Even in his later career, he would take gigs in franchise films like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, where he played wand salesman Mr. Ollivander. At the time of his death, he had two films completed, including Darkest Hours where he played Neville Chamberlain.
In 2004, Hurt became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). He would also receive honors for his work in drama both on screen and in theater. He was also a contributor to causes that included the Proteus Syndrome Foundation; of which it is believed that the character that he played in The Elephant Man suffered from. He also worked with Project Harar to help kids in Ethiopia with facial disfigurements. In 2015, it was announced that he was in the middle of treatment for pancreatic cancer; which later was believed to be in remission.
It would be difficult to suggest that John Hurt didn't love his craft. With several iconic performances to his credit, he continually made film a more enjoyable medium. Whether it was for his dramatic turns or the more friendly family films, he knew how to make things come to life in exciting ways. As it stands, it's hard to narrow down what his best work is - and that's more of a compliment than a detriment. He loved to make film, no matter what genre or age group. He knew how to leave a lasting impression, and that may be his greatest gift of all.