In a strange bit of irony, just as the surreality of the Trump administration has pushed George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 to No. 1 on the Amazon charts, the star of the film adaptation, John Hurt, has passed away after a fight with pancreatic cancer. He was 77.
Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, UK, Hurt was the son of an actress and a vicar, and, after training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), made his film debut in 1966’s A Man for All Seasons. With his pained British voice and poignant stare, the actor would make an indelible impact on cinema, earning his first Academy Award nomination as Max, a heroin addict trapped in a Turkish prison, in Midnight Express, before performing one of film’s most memorable death scenes in Ridley Scott’s Alien. His next two films, as the severely deformed and chastised John Merrick in The Elephant Man (Oscar-nominated for Best Actor) and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, cemented his status as one of the greats, and marks a stellar 4-film run. Hurt would also make memorable turns as the hedonistic Caligula in the TV series I, Claudius; as Jesus Christ in Mel Brooks’s History of The World, Part 1; portraying Mr. Ollivander in a trio of Harry Potter films; and as the one-legged sage Gilliam in Bong Joon-ho’s underrated sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer. He is survived by his wife, Anwen Rees-Myers, and his two sons with third wife Joan Dalton.