Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

RIP Sir John Hurt

In very sad news, beloved British screen icon Sir John Hurt has passed away after a long battle with cancer at the age of 77. Since his screen debut in 1962, Hurt has appeared in over 120 roles on film and television, including starring roles in some of the iconic films of all time.

Everyone has a different role they most fondly remember John Hurt for. Older television viewers probably remember two of his biggest breakthroughs, as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant and Caligula in the shocking I, Claudius. As he moved into film, he gave blistering, award-winning performances in Midnight Express, The Elephant Man, and Nineteen Eighty-Four as well as an iconic supporting role in Alien (the chestburster scene is still regularly recognised as one of the greatest horror scenes of all time).

As he got older, he took supporting roles in some of the biggest films and TV series around. Many young adults will fondly remember growing up watching him as Ollivander in the Harry Potter series, or appearing as the War Doctor in Doctor Who. Never afraid to take on big budget blockbusters, Hurt gave gravitas and warmth to minor roles in everything from V for Vendetta to Hellboy to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Despite his advancing age, Hurt never stopped giving tremendous roles in smaller independent films. In the last fifteen years, he gave some of the best performances of his career in The Proposition, 44 Inch Chest and Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s only fitting that the last film released before his death was the Oscar-nominated Jackie.

Of course, it’s impossible to mention Sir John Hurt without sparing a thought for his voiceover work. Whether you know him from children’s classic Watership Down or Lars Von Trier’s disturbing arthouse drama Dogville, Hurt’s voice always gave the onscreen visuals importance, no matter what he was reading. Without Hurt’s gravelly voice, would the British campaign informing viewers about the effects of AIDS have been half as successful?

To put it simply, there are very few actors as important, iconic, and consistently excellent as Sir John Hurt was. No matter the film or series, whether award-winning drama, big budget blockbuster, or beloved children’s stories, John Hurt always treated them with importance, dignity, and respect. A multiple Oscar-nominee and a member of the BAFTA fellowship, Hurt truly was one of the greatest British actors of all time. A cinema without his gravelly voice is too sad to think about.

RIP Sir John Hurt



By Harry J. Ford

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