LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 03: John Hurt attends the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition on June 3, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
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Remembering Golden Globe Winner John Hurt, a Man for All Seasons

John Hurt, versatile actor of screen and stage, Golden Globe winner, dies at 77.

Arguably one of the most multifaceted of actors, Hurt burst on the world stage as the co-star of Alan Parker’s Midnight Express (1978), a fact-based movie starring Brad Davis as an American student caught smuggling drugs and imprisoned in a Turkish jail. Hurt plays another prisoner, a British heroin addict. It is a harrowing tale of brutality and survival, and it caught the zeitgeist of the 1970s, when international drug trafficking became a major issue. The movie was a worldwide sensation, winning awards in the US and abroad, including eight Golden Globe nominations and six wins, with Hurt receiving a Globe as Best Supporting Actor-Motion Pictures. (He also won a BAFTA award and an Oscar nomination).  Oliver Stone won for the script, based on the best selling book, the first of his eight Globe nominations and three wins. It was also the first Globe for composer Giorgio Moroder, who would win two more Globes and eight nominations, and the first of three nominations for director Alan Parker.

The following year Hurt took the role with which, The Guardian wrote ,’ he arguably made the most permanent impact on popular culture: Kane, the crew member of the Nostromo in director Ridley Scott’s Alien, out of whose chest a xenomorph gruesomely bursts.” The death of Hurt’s character has often been voted as one of cinema’s most memorable moments.

Hurt successfully combined classical theater with television and movies, from Hollywood blockbusters to quirky independent films. Most memorable was The Elephant Man (1980) that won Hurt his second Globe nomination , this time as Best Actor, portraying the title character  (he lost to Robert de Niro’s Raging Bull) . The film garnered three more Globe nominations including for director David Lynch, the first of his four nominations so far.  


The Elephant Man is about Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man in late 19th century London, who is intelligent, kind hearted and friendly, but is feared by most because of his severe deformity. It took Hurt some seven hours a day to get into his makeup. It was the kind of role that Hurt excelled in- the marginalized, the outliers, the vulnerable, the victimized.

Hurt appeared in some 120 movies, (four are yet to be released later this year).  He excelled in every genre, on both sides of the ocean. In Hollywood films as varied as Heaven’s Gate, Contact and Wild Bill comedies such as History of the World Part 1 or British independents such as Nineteen Eighty Four.  He worked with fashionable art house directors like Gus Van Sant  (Even Cowgirls Get The Blues), Jim Jarmusch  (Dead Man) and Lars von Trier (Dogville) and in big popcorn movies, like V for Vendetta, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and a couple of Harry Potter films .

John Hurt was born in 1940, in wartime England, to a clergyman father and an engineering draftswoman mother, who discouraged his acting ambitions. In boarding school, he later revealed, he had been sexually abused by the headmaster. He later studied art and then acting at  the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  TV and theater bit parts led to film, and a good role in A Man For All Seasons (1966) as Richard Rich.

His personal life was turbulent. He was married four times; a 15-year relationship with French model Marie-Louise Volpeliere-Pierrot ended tragically when she died in a horse riding accident. Hurt had a long-term problem with alcohol, giving him a reputation of a hellraiser, with buddies Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole . 

But six decades of distinguished work in theater, television and movies finally earned Hurt a special BAFTA award (2012) and a knighthood, just two years before his death last week .

RIP, Sir John Hurt, actor extraordinaire, 1940-2017.