John Hurt, Oscar-nominated star of 'The Elephant Man,' dies at 77

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John Hurt, the wiry English actor who played a drug addict in "Midnight Express," Kane in "Alien," the title character in "The Elephant Man," and Winston Smith in "Nineteen Eighty-Four," has died, according to multiple media reports. He was 77.

Hurt had disclosed in 2015 that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Mel Brooks, executive producer of "The Elephant Man," tweeted that he was a "truly magnificent talent."

He played Mr. Ollivander, the wand-maker in the first Harry Potter film, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," and for parts 1 and 2 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," however his scenes in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" were cut.

Hurt was twice nominated for Oscars, the first time in 1979 for his supporting role in "Midnight Express," the second time in 1981 for "The Elephant Man." In 2012 he received a BAFTA Award for outstanding British contribution to cinema.

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Actor John Hurt

Actor John Hurt attends the 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' premiere at the Palazzo del Cinema during the 68th Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2011 in Venice, Italy.

(Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

British actor John Hurt and Natalie Portman of the US pose during the photocall for the movie 'V for Vendetta' by James MacTeighe, and presented out of competition of the 56th Berlinale Film Festival, 13 February 2006 in Berlin. This year's edition will see 19 films competing for the Golden Bear, and takes place until 19 February 2006.

(JOCHEN LUEBKE/AFP/Getty Images)

British actor Ian McShane, US actor Dwayne Johnson, US film director Brett Ratner and British actor John Hurt attend a photocall for 'Hercules' in Trafalgar Square in central London on July 2, 2014.

(BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Actor John Hurt arrives for the European premiere of the film "The Imitation Game" at the BFI opening night gala at Leicester Square in London October 8, 2014.

(REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett)

Actress Kirsten Dunst and actor John Hurt attends the 'Melancholia' Photocall during the 64th Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 18, 2011 in Cannes, France.

(Photo by Tony Barson/WireImage)

Actors John Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland attend 'The Confession' screening at the Crosby Street Hotel on March 27, 2011 in New York City.

(Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

British actor John Hurt applauds during the Shooting Star award ceremony for the ten most promising young European actors, at the 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 13, 2012.

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Actor John Hurt at The Berlin International Film Festival 

(Photo by snapshot-photography/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and John Hurt at the post-premiere party for 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' at the Motion Picture Academy Theater in Beverly Hills, Ca. 8/13/01.

(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

British actor Sir John Hurt poses with his wife Anwen after being awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II during an Investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle on July 17, 2015 in London, England.

(Photo by Steve Parsons/WPA pool/Getty Images)

British actor John Hurt holds the Gold Giraldillo Award as a tribute to his career during the Sevilla European film festival in the Andalusian capital of Seville November 7, 2009. The festival will run from November 6 to 14.

(REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo)

Actors Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Hurt attend the 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' premiere at the Palazzo del Cinema during the 68th Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2011 in Venice, Italy.

(Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Director Richard Kwietnowski, actor John Hurt and actress Minnie Driver arrive at the Berlinale Film Festival February 10, 2003 in Berlin, Germany. They are in Berlin for the screening of their film 'Owning Mahowny.'

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Actor John Hurt pose during a photocall to promote the movie 'An Englishman In New York' at the 59th Berlinale film festival in Berlin, February 11, 2009.

(REUTERS/Johannes Eisele)

U.S. actor and director Billy Bob Thornton (R) and cast member John Hurt pose during a photocall to promote the movie "Jayne Mansfield's Car" at the 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 13, 2012 in Berlin.

(REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz)

Actors John Hurt (L) and Elijah Wood pose during a photocall to promote their film "The Oxford Murders" in Madrid January 14, 2008.

(REUTERS/Susana Vera)

Actor John Hurt attends 'Snowpiercer' Premiere during The 8th Rome Film Festival at Auditorium Parco Della Musica on November 8, 2013 in Rome, Italy.

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Actor John Hurt arrives at the premier of 'The Queen' at the Curzon Mayfair on September 13, 2006 in London, England.

(Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

British actor John Hurt arrives for the screening of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' presented in the Berlinale Competition of the 64rd Berlinale Film Festival and opening ceremony in Berlin, on February 6, 2014. The 64rd Berlinale, the first major European film festival of the year, starts on February 6, 2014 with 24 international productions screening in the main showcase.

(TIM BRAKEMEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Actor John Hurt and guest attends the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull premiere at the Palais des Festivals during the 61st Cannes International Film Festival on May 18, 2008 in Cannes, France.

(Photo by Tony Barson Archive/WireImage)

John Hurt Arriving For The World Premiere Of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows : Part One, At The Odeon West End, Leicester Square, London.

(Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

Actress Cynthia Nixon and actor John Hurt attend the 8th Annual Tribeca Film Festival - 'An Englishman In New York' Reception benefitting AmFar at Bubble Lounge on April 27, 2009 in New York City.

(Photo by Brian Ach/WireImage)

British actor John Hurt poses with his award after receiving a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth during an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain July 17, 2015.

(REUTERS/Steve Parsons)

US director Billy Bob Thornton (R) and British actor John Hurt pose during a press conference for the film 'Jayne Mansfield's Car' presented at the International Film Festival Berlinale on February 13, 2012 in Berlin. The 62nd Berlinale, the first major European film festival of the year, kicked off on February 9, 2012, with 23 productions screening in the main showcase. Eighteen pictures will vie for the Golden Bear top prize at the event running to February 19.

(JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

Actors John Hurt, Slimane Daz and Tilda Swinton attend the 'Only Lovers Left Alive' premiere during The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 25, 2013 in Cannes, France.

(Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

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The actor had the pale, haunted look of a man who is perpetually sleep deprived, but he used his craggy features to his advantage. Reviewing the 2011 feature adaptation of John le Carre's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," in which Hurt played Control, the head of MI6, the New York Times revealed admiration for the actor's visage: Control "explains his theory about the mole, the folds in Mr. Hurt's magnificent face sagging a bit lower. That face, a crevassed landscape that suggests sorrow and history, has the granitic grandeur of W.H. Auden in his later life. In tandem with Mr. Hurt's sonorously melancholic voice (and its useful undertones of hysteria), it is a face that, when used by a filmmaker like Mr. Alfredson, speaks volumes about a character who would otherwise take reams of written dialogue to discover."

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' aged and, for much of the movie, befuddled colleague Dr. Oxley), "V for Vendetta," "Hellboy," and Brett Ratner's 2014 Dwayne Johnson-starrer "Hercules." He also did a three-episode arc on the BBC's "Doctor Who" in 2013.

Hurt also appeared in Bong Joon-ho's genre-bending 2013 science fiction film "Snowpiercer," as a sort of an eminence grise to the rebels aboard the train that endlessly circles the snowscapes of a post-apocalyptic Earth.

He most recently played a priest opposite Natalie Portman in Pablo Larraín's 2016 biographical drama "Jackie."

Hurt was slowly building his career in the film and TV career in the 1960s and '70s. He was first recognized 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. (Decades later, Hurt would reprise the role of Crisp in 2009's "An Englishman in New York," about the writer's later years living in Manhattan, and drew another BAFTA TV nomination.)

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Also fueling Hurt's rise was a frighteningly effective turn as the blood- and sex-crazed Roman emperor Caligula in "I, Claudius," which aired on PBS in 1977. The sunken-cheeked actor memorably played a drug addict who befriends the central character in a Turkish prison in "Midnight Express," drawing an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA win, and he provided the moving lead voice of Hazel for the animated feature version of "Watership Down," both in 1978.

The actor actually had a fairly small role in Ridley Scott's "Alien," but the film's exceptional success at the box office coupled with the spectacular way in which his character dies in the film — with the alien shockingly bursting from his chest — guaranteed Hurt a level of visibility he had never achieved before. Hurt, who drew yet another BAFTA nomination for the role, was 39 at the time but looked older.

Celebrity Deaths of 2017

The very next year 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. The New York Times said, "It's to the credit of Christopher Tucker's makeup and to Mr. Hurt's extraordinary performance deep inside it, that John Merrick doesn't look absurd, like something out of a low-budget science-fiction film." He was nominated for an Oscar and won another BAFTA.

Also in 1980 he had a substantial role in Michael Cimino's controversial film "Heaven's Gate,"co-starring with Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken. He also starred as Raskolnikov in a BBC miniseries production of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and "Punishment" that aired on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" that year.

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." The same year he starred as a mostly silent killer in Stephen Frears' philosophical road movie-cum-crime drama "The Hit."

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, resulting, inevitably in a scandal. Roger Ebert said: "The movie stars John Hurt in one of the best performances of his career. In an early scene, Hurt's eyes light up as he sees a pretty girl walking down the street, and somehow Hurt is able to make us understand that he feels, not lust, but simply a deep and genuine appreciation for how wonderful a pretty girl can look on a fine spring day."

In Jim Sheridan's "The Field" (1990), in which Richard Harris brilliantly played an Irish tenant farmer beset by tragedy, Hurt gave an equally impressive performance as his dimwitted friend, winning another BAFTA nomination.

The actor played a Scottish aristocrat central to the plot in the 1995 historical adventure "Rob Roy."

Hurt gave one of his most intriguing, charming performances in the 1998 film "Love and Death in Long Island," in which he played a writer who becomes absolutely besotted with a young actor, played by Jason Priestley, whom he accidentally sees in a silly movie.

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."

John Vincent Hurt was born in Shirebrook, Derbyshire. He trained to become a painter at Grimsby Art School (and continued painting throughout his life), then studied at RADA — the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

The actor racked up a significant number of stage credits, including as Romeo in a 1973 production of "Romeo and Juliet," and toured in Beckett's solo show "Krapp's" but truly found his place onscreen.

With his extraordinary whiskey-tinged voice — the U.K.'s the Guardian wrote in 2009, "His face is one of the most distinctive in the movies. Almost as distinctive as his voice, dripping with honey and acid, often at the same time" — Hurt was unsurprisingly in demand for voiceover and narration work. He was the voice of the dragon in the BBC-Syfy series "Merlin" and narrated films including the Western "Wild Bill," "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" and von Trier's "Dogville" and "Manderlay," as well as a variety of documentaries.

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.

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