John Hurt, the veteran British actor whose career spanned six decades and included notable roles in A Man For All Seasons, Midnight Express, and The Elephant Man, died Wednesday at age 77, EW has confirmed.
“It is with deep sadness that I have to confirm that my husband, John Vincent Hurt, died on Wednesday 25th January 2017 at home in Norfolk,” his widow, Anwen Hurt, said in a statement. “John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit.”
“He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him,” she continued. “I ask that we are allowed to come to terms with our loss without further intrusion.”
Familiar for his gravelly voice and weathered features, Hurt landed his breakout role as the scheming courtier Richard Rich in the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons. The versatile performer also played the everyman protagonist Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the ill-fated executive officer Kane in Alien, the spy chief known as Control in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the wand maker Ollivander in the blockbuster Harry Potter film series.
Hurt, who can currently be seen in the biopic Jackie opposite Natalie Portman, has completed work on three more movies: in director Eric Styles’ That Good Night he plays a terminally ill, once-famous screenwriter; Damascus Cover stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Olivia Thirlby; and My Name Is Lenny (opens July 7 in the U.K.). Hurt had also been cast as Neville Chamberlain in director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, which details Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman) charge against Adolf Hitler during the early days of World War II, but he was unable to film any scenes, EW has confirmed.
Hurt garnered two Oscar nominations over the course of his career, first for his supporting role as a heroin addict in the 1978 prison drama Midnight Express. Two years later he was nominated for playing the title character in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, a part that required hours of makeup work each day.
Lynch once praised Hurt as “simply the greatest actor in the world.”
A native of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Hurt studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and thought of himself as a character actor in the European tradition. As he told the New York Times in 1990, “A character actor is someone who can play, literally, very different characters.”
On the small screen, Hurt played the gay British writer Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, the crazed Roman emperor Caligula in I, Claudius, and the grizzled War Doctor in Doctor Who, and he lent his voice to projects including Watership Down and Merlin.
Hurt was deeply respected by his peers, and received a lifetime achievement award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2012. He was also knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 for his services to drama.