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John Hurt: Remembering the Legendary Two-Time Oscar Nominee

John Hurt: Remembering the Legendary Two-Time Oscar Nominee

John Hurt was many different people depending on who you talk to. A grandfatherly wand maker, a cunning and brave rabbit, a defiantly flamboyant gay exhibitionist, a delusional cannibalistic Roman emperor, the 12th (well, technically 9th) incarnation of The Doctor. Such was his huge scope of roles in a 55 year career that he has portrayed both Winston Smith, victim of Big Brother in 1984 and decades later Big Brother himself in a stage version of the book.

He touched and moved generations of viewers. His work ranged from children’s cartoons to the most disturbing of horror films. His loss will be felt by all movie goers.

His unique and instantly recognisable voice aided him in his heartbreaking performance in the Elephant Man, a role that restricted facial and body movement due to the heavy makeup. Despite these restrictions Hurt conveyed Merrick’s tragic desire for love and acceptance so movingly that it could be considered his greatest work.

Another memorable highlight in his career is the Naked Civil Servant, a biopic of Quentin Crisp where Hurt plays the lead so compellingly that he somewhat overshadows the real man.

His masterful performances elevated the weaker films in his repertoire. The fourth Indiana Jones movie is a disaster but at least Hurt’s sweet senile old professor makes the psychic alien nonsense somewhat bearable.

Speaking of aliens what obituary of Hurt would be complete without mentioning the fact he is the centrepiece in the most shocking scene in all of cinema? The chest bursting scene in Alien is so memorable that it has been cannibalised by popular culture to the extent that Hurt even played himself in a parody of the scene in Spaceballs.

John Hurt Spaceballs

He never seemed to turn down a role and it speaks volumes to his versatility and craft that he also never put a foot wrong. Or maybe he did. Neither I nor most people will have watched all 143 of his on screen performances. Perhaps the best way to honour the man is to seek out some of the more obscure ones and try to prove me wrong and find a poor performance. I very much doubt you will.