John Hurt—Kane, Ollivander, Philanthropist

On the evening of Friday, January 27, it was reported that actor John Hurt had died. A remarkable presence on stage, film, and television, he lent his signature voice and considerable skills to more than 200 productions over the course of more than 60 years. He had announced that he had pancreatic cancer back in June 2015.

John Hurt by Jude Edginton

He was born on January 22, 1940 in a mining town in Derbyshire, England. He studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and eventually secured bit parts and theatrical work. In 2000, he told The Guardian, "Well I first decided when 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 nine."

One of Hurt's first serious roles was as gay icon Quentin Crisp in the television drama The Naked Civil Servant in 1976. An inspiration to generations of queer people, he embodied the role so perfectly that he received a BAFTA TV award and the adoration of millions. He transformed what could have been a harmful stereotype into a message of hope and a role that could have ended his career into the start of a brilliant life. In 1987, he became the voice of British public service messages for AIDS education. He revisited the role of Quentin Crisp in 2009 for An Englishman in New York, for which he was also nominated for a BAFTA TV award.

John Hurt as a young and old Quentin Crisp

The same year as The Naked Civil Servant, Hurt portrayed another historical figure: Caligula, in the classic I, Claudius. He was nominated for Oscars for his roles in Midnight Express and The Elephant Man, though in between those films he was the voice of Aragorn in the animated The Lord of the Rings movie and played the astronaut Kane in Alien, in which he was given one of the most iconic deaths in the history of cinema. He later appeared in Mel Brooks's Spaceballs in which, he parodied that death scene. On the actor's personal YouTube channel is a video compiling all his onscreen deaths, and it runs an impressive four and a half minutes. "It got to a point where my children wouldn't ask me if I died," he is reported to have said, "but rather how do you die?"

Geeks OUT's readers might know him best for his many geek-friendly appearances in such franchises as Doctor Who, Merlin, Harry Potter, and Hellboy. On that first part, he told The Guardian in 2013, "I've done a couple of conferences where you sit and sign autographs for people and then you have photographs taken with them and a lot of them are all dressed up in alien suits or Doctor Who whatevers. I was terrified of doing it because I thought they'd all be loonies, but they are absolutely, totally charming as anything." Hurt also gave memorable turns in V for Vendetta, Snowpiercer, and Only Lovers Left Alive. A tireless performer, he still has four films scheduled for release.

In 2004, Hurt was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire and, in 2015, the Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire. He was a patron of Project Haraar, which helps children suffering from facial disfigurements in Ethiopia. BuzzFeed UK LGBT editor Patrick Strudwick described some of his charity work in an essay, while also reflecting on what Hurt meant to marginalized people: "He was a great actor because his empathy ran so deep." More than anything else, that will be John Hurt's legacy.

Devin Whitlock's picture
on January 30, 2017

I've enjoyed comics since I was ten years old, but won't reveal how long ago that was. I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, and can usually be found at a local bar with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. I'm so happy to be contributing to Geeks OUT!