British actor John Hurt, famous for his role in The Elephant Man, has died aged 77 after a long battle with cancer, according to British media reports.
Sir John Hurt, knighted in 2015 for his services to drama, was best known for playing Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man in the 1980 movie.
His breakthrough role came in the 1978 film Midnight Express, earning him an Oscar nomination, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.
He went on to star in several Harry Potter films, 1984, V for Vendetta, the war doctor in the Doctor Who series and Alien.
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) January 28, 2017
In recent years he starred in the 2011 espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and most recently in the Jackie Kennedy biopic, Jackie, starring Natalie Portman.
In 2015, Hurt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
He said in a statement to The Guardian in June, 2015: “I have always been open about the way in which I conduct my life and in that spirit I would like to make a statement.”
“I have recently been diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer. I am undergoing treatment and am more than optimistic about a satisfactory outcome, as indeed is the medical team”.
“I am continuing to focus on my professional commitments and will shortly be recording Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (one of life’s small ironies) for BBC Radio 4”.
In October, 2015, Hurt revealed he his prognosis was “fantastic”.
Speaking at the Man Booker Prize ceremony, the actor said he was “overjoyed” and “thrilled” at the outcome of his most recent scan.
Tributes have begun pouring in for the much-loved and respected actor.
No one could have played The Elephant Man more memorably. He carried that film into cinematic immortality. He will be sorely missed.
— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) January 28, 2017
Very sad to hear of John Hurt's passing. It was such an honor to have watched you work, sir.
— Elijah Wood (@elijahwood) January 28, 2017
God speed to John Hurt, a legendary actor and good human being.
— Sharon Stone (@sharonstone) January 28, 2017
The actor had the pale, haunted look of a man who is perpetually sleep deprived, but he used his craggy features to his advantage, with one reviewer saying he had the look of “sorrow and history.”
But, of course, there was more to Hurt than his memorable appearance. Michael Caton-Jones, who directed the actor in several films, described him to the U.K.’s the Guardian in 2006 in this way: “One of the greatest screen actors ever, and one of the bravest – because he’s all about honest emotion. People think actors have to pretend or lie. The best actors, like John, know they have to search for the truth.”
In addition to Alien, Hurt appeared in a number of other high-profile fantasy or science fiction films, including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which he played Jones’ colleague Dr. Oxley, V for Vendetta, Hellboy and Hercules.
He most recently played a priest opposite Natalie Portman in the 2016 biographical drama Jackie.
Hurt was first recognised for a supporting role as a young schemer in the classic film A Man for All Seasons in 1966, and he played a man unfairly accused of murder in 1971’s 10 Rillington Place, drawing his first BAFTA nomination.
In 1975 he significantly upped his profile by starring in the adaptation of The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp’s memoir about living openly as a gay man in England in the 1930s and ’40s, winning the actor his first BAFTA TV Award.
Then came a frighteningly effective turn as the blood- and sex-crazed Roman emperor Caligula in I, Claudius in 1977.
The sunken-cheeked actor memorably played a drug addict who befriends the central character in a Turkish prison in Midnight Express the following year.
In 1981, he starred as the title character, John Merrick, in David Lynch’s film The Elephant Man, and though his features were hidden behind either a canvas bag or the mounds of makeup used to convey Merrick’s disfigurement, Hurt brought a nobility and dignity – and undeniable sense of tragedy – to the character.
As his career was on the rise in the early 1980s, Hurt took a substantial emotional hit when his girlfriend of 16 years, French model Marie-Lise Volpeliere-Pierrot, was killed in a riding accident in 1983.
The actor turned in an impressive, sympathetic performance as Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s 1984 adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In 1989’s Scandal, Hurt starred as the real-life Stephen Ward, who groomed young women for sexual relationships with Britain’s powerful as a means of gaining access to them.
The actor played a Scottish aristocrat central to the plot in the 1995 historical adventure Rob Roy. Hurt was part of the impressive ensemble cast of Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia, and the same year he played Control, the leader of MI6, in the feature adaptation of John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
In 2009 Hurt won a prestigious BFI Fellowship from the British Film Institute.
He was married four times, the first time to actress Annette Robertson in the early 1960s, the second time to Donna Peacock, the third time to Jo Dalton.
Survivors include the actor’s fourth wife, producer Anwen Rees-Myers, whom Hurt married in 2005, and two children by Dalton.