Sir John Hurt, who died aged 77 from pancreatic cancer on Wednesday 25 January, has been described as one of Britain’s greatest actors in a career that spanned six decades.
He received critical acclaim for his performances in The Naked Civil Servant (1975), Midnight Express (1978), Alien (1979), Crime and Punishment (1979), The Elephant Man (1980), Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1984), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), the Harry Potter films (2001-2011), and the newly released Jackie (2016).
Hurt underwent six hours of makeup application each day to play Joseph Merrick, a man of dignity, tenderness and refinement underneath his deformity in The Elephant Man.
Sir John Vincent Hurt (1940- 2017) was born in Derbyshire in England on 22 January. From a young age, Hurt found refuge in the theatre. At preparatory school, he was frequently cast in female roles. “I had a very high voice and was quite small – and was rather pretty in those days,” he told the Scotsman newspaper. “I just knew, then, that I wanted to act.”
He said he suffered from “considerable mood swings” and took pleasure in drinking with actors such as Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed.
An early marriage, to actress Annette Robertson, ended in divorce. His companion of 16 years, French fashion model Marie-Lise Volpeliere-Pierrot, was killed in a horse-riding accident in 1983. His subsequent marriages to Donna Peacock and Jo Dalton, the mother of his two sons, ended in divorce. In 2005, he wed Anwen Rees-Myers.
Sir John won four British Academy of Film and Televison Arts (BAFTA) awards during his career, including a lifetime achievement recognition for his outstanding contribution to British cinema in 2012. He was also nominated for two Academy Awards. The actor was knighted by the Queen at Windsor Castle in 2015, when he was midway through a course of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. He died at his home in Norfolk.
Fellow British actor Jeremy Irons told Sky News of his “enormous sadness” at his friend’s death. Irons said: “He was an extraordinary combination as an actor. He had that amazing voice and that incredible face, completely chasmed with lines, and the most interesting mind behind that. He was not only an enormous amount of fun to be with but he was also immensely serious.”
His wife, Anwen Rees-Myers, said: “John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit. He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him.”