Arguably one of the most accomplished actors to have ever worked on film, television, radio and stage, Sir John Hurt, CBE, was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England on Monday, 22 Jan. 1940. Director, producer, writer and actor David Lynch, described Hurt as “simply the greatest actor in the world.”
After appearing as Richard Rich in the 1966 Fred Zinnemann directed biographical period drama “A Man for All Seasons,” Hurt’s acting career took off significantly. By 1978, inclusive of Richard Fleischer’s “10 Rillington Place,” Jack Gold’s “The Naked Civil Servant,” the BBC mini-series “I, Claudius,” Alan Parker‘s “Midnight Express” and Martin Rosen’s animated dramatization of “Watership Down,” the actor had worked on numerous highly acclaimed productions.
Hurt’s embodiment of English writer, raconteur and actor Quentin Crisp in “The Naked Civil Servant” earned the actor his first BAFTA. “Midnight Express” brought Hurt international acclaim and earned him both Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards, along with a much-prized Academy Award nomination.
In 1979, accompanied by Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto, Hurt is seen going where few people had been before, a science fiction horror that redefined the genre. For his work on the Ridley Scott directed “Alien,” Hurt picked up a well-deserved BAFTA nomination.
The diverse nature of the roles Hurt played during his long illustrious career cannot be understated.
Quintessentially the finest example of a live theatre to film adaptations ever conceived, the story revolves around the life of John Merrick, a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scaping a living as a side-show freak.
Merrick, played by Hurt, is much more than his monstrous appearance. When one takes the time to look beneath the façade, a person of great intelligence and sensitivity is revealed. Hurt provided cinema audiences with a powerhouse performance like nothing they had previously experienced. It therefore should not come as any huge surprise to learn his performance in Lynch’s film earned him his third competitive BAFTA, along with his second Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
If it had been an ordinary year, Hurt would have quite easily have won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Unfortunately for him, with the likes of Robert De Niro for “Raging Bull,” Robert Duvall for “The Great Santini,” Jack Lemmon for “Tribute” and Peter O’Toole for “The Stunt Man,” this was not an ordinary year. De Niro picked up the award that year.
Even though De Niro gave an amazing performance, I cannot help but wonder what it was about Hurt’s magnificent portrayal of Merrick the American Academy Awards found lacking. The depth of drama presented in this performance was flawless.
Hurt began the 1980s with “The Elephant Man.” This was arguably one of his greatest accomplishments as an actor. Despite this point, during the next five years, the actor went on to appear in films such as Mel Brooks’s “History of the World: Part I,” Delbert Mann’s “Night Crossing,” Michael Elliott’s “King Lear,” John Irvin’s “Champions” and Michael Radford’s “1984.”
In 1991, Hurt turned his acting abilities to playing the quintessentially slimy Lord Graves in the David S. Ward directed romantic comedy “King Ralph.” This was of course not the last time Hurt played the protagonist. Four years later, Hurt could be seen playing the villainous James Graham, 1st Duke and 4th Marquess of Montrose in the Michael Caton-Jones directed “Rob Roy.”
If you are familiar with the “Harry Potter” franchise, you might want to cast your mind back to Mr. Ollivander, the character that owns the wand store on London’s Diagon Alley. Mr. Ollivander is wonderfully brought to life by Hurt.
In 2013, Hurt joined the ranks of the Time Lords when he portrayed The Doctor / The War Doctor in the long running BBC science fiction series “Doctor Who.”
Hurt was knighted in 2015 for his services to drama. The actor died of cancer in Cromer, Norfolk, England on Wednesday, 25 Jan. 2017, three days after his 77th birthday.
The Faces of John Hurt
In addition to Hurt, other entertainment professionals born on this day include:
For a more comprehensive list of entertainment professionals born on 22 January, click the provided link.