‘Well, I would say that if you could manage to get to the end of The Elephant Man without being moved… I don’t think you’d be someone I’d want to know.’
Kane, John Merrick, Caligula, Professor Broom, Ollivander. You knew him, even if you didn’t know who he was. In a career spanning over 50 years, John Vincent Hurt has seen a career that few actors have ever accomplished – a career of longevity. Hurt knew he wanted to act around nine years old when his young eyes watched Alec Guinness performing as Fagen in David Lean’s Oliver Twist. And this energy never quite left him – his infectious grin still evident even as aged carried him into his 70’s.
Not one for regrets or awards – despite having won multiple award including 4 BAFTA’s – Hurt never came with a typical “Hollywood air” and would freely talk about the films that came out less than stellar. Most notably was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Hurt has seen roles in every genre, most recent the biopic, Jackie, and most notable, The Elephant Man. But he achieved a cult following when he was cast in a small science fiction film with a little known director, Ridley Scott’s Alien. Funny enough, he wasn’t the original casting choice for the role of Kane in Alien. He was brought in on the second day of filming to replace the original actor. Science fiction would prove to be especially good for Hurt both gaining the majority of fanbase and cementing his legend with playing the War Doctor in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special.
He would be introduced to a new generation in the early 2000’s when he was cast in the role of Professor Bloom in the comic book adaptation, Hellboy. A performance hailed for the humanity and heart that Hurt brought to a truly fantastical film. And it’s thanks to performances like Hurt’s, that saw studios truly start to look at the potential independent comic books had.
In 2004, John Hurt was knighted for a life time contribution to drama. Receiving this title seemed to bring on a change in Hurt. A man known to liberally hit the wine bottles – often 7 bottles a night – on the party scene for most of his career stopped drinking on year later. Hurt made headlines when he was cast as the War Doctor, not only because he was the first knighted actor to play The Doctor but because he was able to match every bit of energy of Matt Smith and David Tennant. Two actors less then half Hurt’s age – all of whom playing the same character at the same time. John Hurt was an irregularity in world of movies and television. He was an actor completely driven by the art and devoid of ego. The roles he played through the years gave him a unique clarity on life that has left us with some characters that were truly unique as Hurt himself when he passed away on January 27th 2017. Whether it was playing Caligula from age 19 – 28 or or the trigger of the Christine Keeler political sex scandal in Scandal.
John Hurt’s love of acting was still as strong now as it was 20 years ago, 2017 will see four films released in 2017 that star him. We can all be so lucky to have this kind of drive and love for life that John Hurt had. For some, myself included, John Hurt’s passing is like loosing a personal friend. I saw Alien for the first time when I was 10 (close to the same age Hurt realized what he wanted in life). It was one of the select films (from the age of 6) that are responsible for me going to film school. I’m never going to get the chance to thank him. But I will celebrate the life of a man who got to live his dream as I get to live mine.
Bruce Lee said when asked of immortality; “To become immortal one must first live a life worth remembering”. Ladies and gentlemen, John Vincent Hurt. Once mortal, now immortal.