ByAlisha Grauso, writer at
Editor-at-large here at Movie Pilot. Nerd out with me on Twitter, comrades: @alishagrauso
Alisha Grauso

More sad celebrity news to report today: Legendary British actor John Hurt has passed away at the age of 77.

A veteran of stage and screens both big and small, Hurt's career spanned five and a half decades without showing signs of slowing, a remarkable feat in the fickle world of entertainment. His first role was in TV series Z Cars in 1962, and audiences would quickly learn who he was through memorable performances including Rich in A Man For All Seasons, Max in Midnight Express, Kaine in the original Alien, and John Merrick in The Elephant Man. Hurt garnered Oscar nominations for both Elephant Man and Express, and won a Golden Globe for the latter.

The chest-burster scene in 'Alien' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
The chest-burster scene in 'Alien' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

Perhaps Hurt's most famous anecdote was from his time on the Alien set while filming the famous alien chest-burster scene. He and director Ridley Scott kept the scene secret from the rest of the cast, so their terrified reactions on screen were genuine. Hurt later explained they'd pulled it off by screwing an artificial torso to the table with Hurt underneath. Years later, he'd lampoon his iconic scene in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs.

In more recent years, younger audiences knew Hurt from various roles such as wand-maker Ollivander in the Harry Potter franchise, the Hellboy movies, V for Vendetta, Snowpiercer, and a brief but memorable performance as the War Doctor in Doctor Who.

He also lent his distinctive gravelly voice to numerous voice roles including the Great Dragon in TV series Merlin, Hazel in Watership Down, and the narrator in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, among many others.

In June of 2015 the actor announced he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and during his treatment, he admitted he'd made his peace with potentially dying:

"I can’t say I worry about mortality, but it’s impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it. We’re all just passing time."

In keeping with his personality of simultaneous gravitas and irreverent humor, Hurt also joked about not looking to the afterlife:

"I hope I shall have the courage to say, ‘Vroom! Here we go! Let’s become different molecules!"

John Hurt as Ollivander in 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
John Hurt as Ollivander in 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Throughout his over half a century of acting, the joy Hurt took in his work and his enthusiasm for the craft of acting shone through his performances. In a 2000 interview with The Guardian he confessed it was the only path he'd ever seen for him in life:

“I wanted to act very early. I didn’t know how to become an actor, as such, nor did I know that it was possible to be a professional actor, but I first decided that I wanted to act when I was 9. I was effused with a feeling of complete and total enjoyment, and I felt that’s where I should be.”

For that lifetime of dedication to his craft, Hurt was given the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015.

He is survived by wife of 12 years, Anwen Rees-Myers, and two sons, Alexander and Nicholas.


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