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Sir John Hurt (1940 – 2017)

John Hurt by Walterlan Papetti

Sir John Hurt (1940 – 2017)

Sir John Hurt was a wonderful actor - one of a kind. The kind we just love.

His film roles include some great lead performances – as John Merrick in The Elephant Man for example, or his gritty Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is equally admired for supporting appearances where he brought depth and humanity to the whole; there isn’t a film that isn’t improved by his presence. A good recent example is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, where his understated worn-out Control is one of the stand-outs of the movie. Another is his devastating turn as Stephen Ward in Scandal.

For SciFi fans – fans of SciFi horror in particular – he is of course a legend, and when we get around to listing the most iconic moments of our favourite films – which is pretty often, it’s true – one of John Hurt’s performances is often at the top, or very, very near.

As the unfortunate Kane in Alien – no one who sees it ever forgets the chestbuster sequence – Hurt really nails it under fairly crazy circumstances (see the video below).

But Alien is a SciFi triumph of film making in general and he’s superb in the film full stop. For fans, the mad peak of the chestbuster table is incredible stuff but it’s not an override on the complete contribution of Hurt’s deeply human turn in the movie. He is one key cog in an ensemble cast picture so brilliantly achieved that Alien was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

In all aspects, Alien is one of the most important science-fiction films of all time.

John Hurt stayed an important part of the story of genre films – with key roles in the Harry Potter and Hellboy movies and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He was High Chancellor Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta and the voice of Aragorn in the animated Lord of the Rings. In 2010 he was a magnificent and unforgettably heartbreaking Parkin in a truly eerie adaptation of an MR James classic – Whistle and I’ll Come to You.

John Hurt the actor is of course in no way defined by Kane’s alien misfortune back in 1979 – his career was filled with outstanding performances and on his death his work was justly acclaimed by actors, directors, critics and fans the world over – but in the SciFi community it is an explosive moment in an explosive film: a sequence which shifted the world of SciFi on its axis.

John Hurt talks about Quentin Crisp's affect on his career and that famous scene from Alien ...

National Media Museum