Childhood & Early Life
John Hurt was born on January 22, 1940 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire to Phyllis and Arnould Herbert Hurt. His mother was an amateur actress and engineer while his father was a mathematician who became a clergyman for the Church of England. He even served as the Vicar of Shirebrook and St John’s parish, Sunderland.
When Hurt turned five, his family moved to South Derbyshire where his father became the vicar of St. Stephen's Church in Woodville. Hurt had a strict upbringing as a child. He wasn’t allowed to watch films nor was he permitted to interact with local children, and thus lived a life of solitude. He was bit by the acting bug while studying at the Anglican St Michael’s Preparatory School in Otford, Kent.
Hurt’s first ever performance on stage was that of a girl in the school production, ‘The Bluebird’. At the age of 12, his family moved to Grimsby, Lincolnshire. Therein, Hurt became a boarder at Lincoln School.
Though Hurt was keen on taking up acting professionally in his later years, his parents objected to the idea and instead proposed him to become an art teacher. At 17 years of age, he enrolled at the Grimsby Art School to study art.
In 1959, Hurt won a scholarship that allowed him to study at Saint Martin's School of Art in London for a diploma in arts. Not able to attain yet another scholarship, Hurt turned to his first passion, acting. In 1960, Hurt won a scholarship to Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Therein he trained for two years to become an actor.
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Hurt’s first stint at acting was for a mainstream play, ‘Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger’ in 1962. The same year, he made his film debut in a supporting role for the ill-fated ‘The Wild and Willing’
The dismissal career beginning did little to dampen the spirit of Hurt who went ahead to take up roles in a number of plays including, ‘Inadmissible Evidence’, ‘Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs’ and so on.
In 1966, Hurt got his first major role for the film, ‘A Man for All Seasons’ as Richard Rich. The movie gained him widespread appreciation. Following this, he featured in a number of theater plays including ‘Macbeth’, ‘Man and Superman’, ‘The Caretaker’, ‘The Dumb Waiter’and ‘Travesties’.
In 1971, he capped the role of Timothy Evans in ’10 Rillington Place’. In the film, his character was hanged for murders committed by his landlord John Christie. His impeccable portrayal of the character of Evans earned him a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Though Hurt had created a name for himself in theatre as well as films, his talent was not completely tapped. It was only when he entered small screen that his potential as an actor was fully realised. He gained an opportunity to bring to camera an entire range of his acting capabilities and his magnitude as a performer.
In 1975, Hurt hit jackpot with the television play, ‘The Naked Civil Servant’. His portrayal of the character of Quentin Crisp, a tormented gay writer and raconteur gained him widespread acclaim. His bold and unabashed interpretation of the flamboyant and controversial gent earned him an Emmy and British Academy TV Award. Hurt’s power-packed performance in the play made his character an unforgettable one for viewers for years.
His masterwork portrayal of the character of Crisp won him appreciation in both television and films. Following his superlative success, he was offered major roles in films and television. Hurt’s next outing was as Roman Emperor Caligula in the BBC drama serial, ‘I, Claudius’. He excelled playing the role of a strikingly disturbed cruel and crazed Roman emperor.
Following the outstanding success in television, Hurt jumped back to the big screen for the 1978’s intense drama, ‘Midnight Express’. In it, he played the role of a tortured Turkish prison inmate who befriends Brad Davis. The finesse with which he portrayed his role earned him a Golden Globe and BAFTA Award in addition to an Academy Award nomination.
In 1978, Hurt did two voice roles, one was as Aragorn in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and the other was as Hazel, the heroic rabbit leader of his warren in the film adaptation of ‘Watership Down’. He also played the major villain, General Woundwort, in the animated television series version.
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Hurt ended the decade of 1970s with yet another big hit ‘Alien’. In the film, he capped the role of Kane, the first victim and a crew member whose body becomes host to an unearthly predator. The same year, he starred as Raskolnikov in the 1979 BBC TV miniseries adaptation of ‘Crime and Punishment’.
Hurt started the 1980s decade with the film, ‘The Elephant Man’ in which he played the titular role of John Merrick, a pathetically disturbed man. The film earned him his second BAFTA award and a nomination each in Academy and Golden Globe awards.
The decade of 1980s saw Hurt appear in an array of films, including ‘The Osterman Weekend’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, ‘The Black Cauldron’ and so on. He even appeared as an on-screen narrator in Jim Henson’s TV series ‘The Story Teller’.
Beginning 1990, Hurt played the supporting role as ‘Bird’ O'Donnell in Jim Sheridan's film ‘The Field’. An adaptation of George Orwell’s landmark novel, his role in film garnered him another BAFTA nomination. Some other prominent films of the 90s decade that Hurt featured in include ‘Rob Roy’, ‘Love and Death on Long Island’ and ‘Contact’.
Hurt was a part of the Harry Potter film franchise as well. He played to perfection the small but important role of Mr Ollivander, the wand merchant at Ollivander’s in the first film of the Potter series. He reprised his role for the fourth film of the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ and the final two films‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ – Part 1 and Part 2
During the decade of 2000, Hurt did a couple of narratives in various films including ‘Dogville’, ‘Pride’, ‘Valiant’, ‘Manderlay’, ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ and so on. In 2006, he capped the role of Adam Sutler, leader of the Norsefire fascist dictatorship for ‘V For Vendetta’.
In 2008, he did the Steven Spielberg's film, ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’, playing the character of Harold Oxley. The same year, he reprised the role of Quentin Crisp in ‘An Englishman in New York’, almost 33 years after ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ was released. In the film, he depicted Crisp's later years in New York.
In 2009, Hurt yet again reprised his role in Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ for Paper Zoo Theatre Company as Big Brother. He did three films that year - ‘The Limits of Control’, ‘New York, I Love You’ and ’44 Inch Chest’ that latter of which earned him nomination at the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Supporting Actor.
In 2012, Hurt appeared as Kingsley Bedford in ‘Jayne Mansfield’s Car’. The following year, he served as a narrator for ‘Charlie Countryman’, ‘More Than Honey’ and Benjamin Britten – Peace and Conflict. He also starred as Marlowe in ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ and as Gilliam in ‘Snowpiercer’.
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In 2015, Hurt gave the voiceover for the main antagonist Sailor John in the Thomas & Friends film ‘Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure’ along with Eddie Redmayne and Jamie Campbell Bower. In television, he last appeared in the 2013 tele-series ‘Doctor Who’ for three episodes, ‘The Name of the Doctor’, ‘The Night of the Doctor’, and ‘The Day of the Doctor’.
Awards & Achievements
In 1978, Hurt received the prestigious Golden Globe and BAFTA Award in the category Best Supporting Actor for ‘Midnight Express’. He even received an Oscar nomination for the same.
In 1980, Hurt won the BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role for ‘The Elephant Man’. For his outstanding portrayal of the role, he eve received an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination.
At the 65th British Academy Film Awards, Hurt won the award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema.
In 2004, Hurt was felicitated with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
In 2012, he was appointed as the first Chancellor of the Norwich University of the Arts.
In 2014, he received the Will Award by the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
In 2015, he was knighted in the New Year Honors for his relentless service in the field of drama. The same year, he attended an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle where he was praised by Queen Elizabeth II.
Hurt received honorary degree from the University of Derby and University of Lincoln. He even received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from University of Hull.
Personal Life & Legacy
Hurt married four times in his life. His first marriage was to actress Annette Robertson in 1962. The couple divorced in 1964.
In 1967, he went into a relationship with French model Marie-Lise Volpeliere-Pierrot. For fifteen years, Hurt’s relationship with Pierrot stayed strong. Just when the couple decided to seal their love into marriage, a tragic accident took away Pierrot’s life.
In 1984, Hurt married his old friend and American actress, Donna Peacock. The couple moved to Kenya but divorced six years later in 1990. The same year, he married American production assistant Joan Dalton. He has two sons from the marriage, Alexander ‘Sasha’ John Vincent Hurt and Nicholas ‘Nick’ Hurt. This marriage too did not last long and they separated in 1996.
In 1996, he went into a seven-year relationship with Dublin-born presenter and writer Sarah Owens. In 2005, he finally married his fourth and last wife, advertising film producer, Anwen Rees Meyers.
In June 2015, Hurt publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer. Later in October 2016, Hurt stated that his cancer was in remission.
John Hurt's death was announced on 27 January 2017. While the exact cause of his death was not confirmed, it is believed that a recurrence of pancreatic cancer may have caused his demise.