By Thomas Newey
Veteran British actor Sir John Hurt, Oscar-nominated for his star turn in “The Elephant Man” and his supporting role in “Midnight Express”, has died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, a representative said on Saturday. He was 77.
Hurt, who had starred in more than 200 films and television series over a career spanning six decades, revealed in 2015 that he was suffering from the early stages of pancreatic cancer and that he was receiving treatment.
His death was confirmed to Reuters via email by Charles McDonald, a British-based representative for the actor’s Los Angeles talent manager, John Crosby. The BBC, citing the actor’s agent, also reported that Hurt had died. Further details of the circumstances of his death were not immediately available.
Hurt said at the time of his cancer diagnosis that he intended to continue working. He most recently starred in the Sundance TV crime series “The Last Panthers” and in the Oscar-nominated film “Jackie”, playing a priest who consoled the newly widowed wife of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Hurt, a native of Derbyshire in England, garnered his first Academy Award nomination for his supporting role as Max, an inmate and heroin addict who befriends the imprisoned drug smuggler Billy inside a Turkish jail in the gripping 1978 drama “Midnight Express”.
He earned greater acclaim, and an Oscar nomination as best lead actor, for his portrayal of John Merrick, a grossly disfigured Victorian-era man struggling to project his humanity while enduring the indignities of life as a side-show freak in “The Elephant Man”. With his face obscured behind the character’s deformity, Hurt’s performance rested largely on the expression of the actor’s signature raspy voice.
Those two roles won him Britain’s top film award, the BAFTA. He was bestowed an honorary BAFTA in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to cinema.
Hurt also played a key role in the original 1979 sci-fi thriller “Alien”. His character, Kane, became the first member of a space merchant vessel crew to fall victim to a fearsome life form, encountered on a distant moon, when a deadly parasitic creature burst from his chest.
It was one of the more memorable of numerous roles during his prolific career that ended with his character’s death – 40 in all, according to The Hollywood Reporter. His considerable body of on-screen portraits of mortality, from “The Wild and the Willing” in 1962 to “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in 2011, were documented in a 4-1/2-minute YouTube compilation of clips titled “The Many Deaths of John Hurt”.
Other notable credits included supporting parts as a village doctor in Greece whose daughter falls in love with an Italian military officer during World War Two in the 2001 film “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, and as the eccentric wand-maker Mr. Ollivander in the “Harry Potter” movie franchise.
On television, he guest starred as the War Doctor, an incarnation of the lead protagonist in the long-running BBC science fiction series “Doctor Who”, for three episodes celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary in 2013.