John Hurt (22 January 1940 – 25 January 2017) was an English actor whose career spanned six decades.
He came to prominence for his sympathetic role as Timothy Evans, who was hanged in real-life for murders actually committed by his landlord John Christie, in 10 Rillington Place (1971).
His notable leading roles were as John Merrick in David Lynch’s biopic The Elephant Man (1980), Winston Smith in a version of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) and Stephen Ward in the drama depicting the Profumo affair, Scandal (1989). He is also famous for his television roles such as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant (1975), Caligula in I, Claudius (1976) and the War Doctor in Doctor Who.
John Hurt appeared in a number of horror and sci-fi/fantasy films including The Pied Piper (1972), The Ghoul (1975), The Shout (1978), After Darkness (1985), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990), Monolith (1993), Lost Souls (2000), Hellboy and its sequel (2004), The Skeleton Key (2005), V for Vendetta (2005), Outlander (2008), Sightseers (narrator of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, 2012) and Only Lovers Left Alive. He was also in the 2010 TV adaptation of M.R. James inspired ghost story, Whistle and I’ll Come to You.
Most horror fans will know Hurt for his role as Kane in Alien (1979), whose unexpectedly spectacular and gory demise shocked audiences worldwide. In fact, his casting was last minute as Jon Finch was originally due to play the part but had to drop out due to ill health.
In 1987, Mel Brooks persuaded Hurt to pay homage to his infamous Alien role in the sci-fi spoof Spaceballs.
Referring to Frankenstein Unbound (1990), Hurt commented: “Everybody’s got to work with Roger Corman. You can’t leave out that experience. I was amazed when I met him, because I was expecting to see this rather freaky character with hair all over the place – a complete crazy man. But he wasn’t. He was dressed in a tie and a suit, with very neat hair. At first, I thought he was a solicitor.”
John Hurt was quoted as saying: “We are all racing towards death. No matter how many great, intellectual conclusions we draw during our lives, we know they’re all only man-made, like God. I begin to wonder where it all leads. What can you do, except do what you can do as best you know how.”
Throughout his acting career, there can be no doubt that John Hurt gave it his best even when he appeared in a few films that were, by his own admission, “stinkers”.
Adrian J Smith, HORRORPEDIA