Thursday 12 December 2019

Sir John Hurt's widow: It will be a strange world without him

Sir John Hurt, who has died from cancer aged 77, with his wife Anwen
Sir John Hurt, who has died from cancer aged 77, with his wife Anwen

The widow of Sir John Hurt has said it will be a "strange world" without the veteran actor following his death at the age of 77.

Anwen Hurt said that the Oscar-nominated star died at his home in Norfolk on Wednesday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

She called the award-winning actor the "most gentlemanly of gentlemen", as it was revealed that he spent the last years of his life working on a number of films.

Sir John will return to screens as Ralph, a successful screenwriter who is facing terminal illness in That Good Night, which takes its name from the poem by Dylan Thomas Do Not Go Gentle in to That Good Night.

He had completed filming for the role, described as "poignant" by producers, months before his death as he continued to work at a prodigious rate.

In a statement to the Press Association, Mrs Hurt said: "It is with deep sadness that I have to confirm that my husband, John Vincent Hurt, died on Wednesday January 25 2017 at home in Norfolk.

"John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit. He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him."

As well as working on That Good Night, Sir John was also starring in the Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie, thriller Damascus Cover and the upcoming biopic of boxer Lenny McLean, My Name Is Lenny.

Jackie co-star Natalie Portman said she was "so extremely sad" to hear of Sir John's death.

She said: "I was lucky enough to make two films with him - both of which were taken to the next level because of his performances.

"He was the most talented actor, and also a deeply good and funny and poetic and smart and warm human being.

"I send my love to his family at this terrible time, and join his fans in watching his films that we are lucky enough to have forever."

Sir John was also filming Darkest Hour, in which he starred as Neville Chamberlain opposite Gary Oldman's Winston Churchill, due to be released on December 29.

Recently the actor pulled out of a production of John Osborne's play The Entertainer on medical advice, as he recovered from an intestinal complaint.

He had been due to play Billy Rice in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company production, directed by Rob Ashford.

A spokesman for the producers of That Good Night expressed their "sincere condolences" and said they felt privileged to have worked with the actor.

They added: "John delivers a masterful and touching performance of this flawed character as he attempts to be reconciled to his son and, secretly, to ensure he is not a burden to his wife as he goes 'into that good night'."

They said his role in the film "was extremely poignant but one that he was very proud of and keen to take on and complete despite his own personal battles with illness".

The British actor was nominated for two Academy Awards, for The Elephant Man and Midnight Express, and won four Bafta Awards, including a lifetime achievement accolade in recognition of his outstanding contribution to British cinema in 2012.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling tweeted of Sir John, who played wand-maker Mr Ollivander in the film adaptations of her books: "So very sad to hear that the immensely talented and deeply beloved John Hurt has died. My thoughts are with his family and friends."

In a scene reminiscent of when Hogwarts students mourned the death of their headmaster Albus Dumbledore, fans raised their wands in Hurt's memory outside Ollivanders shop at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.

Meanwhile, fans at Norwich City Football Club led a moment's applause for the actor at the 77th minute of the match between the Birmingham City and the Canaries, who Sir John supported.

Childline founder and president Dame Esther Rantzen said the actor, who was a fundraiser for the children's charity, had achieved an "extraordinary career".

Dame Esther said: "There was something in his own past which made him connect with vulnerable children - I believe it happened when he was in school.

"From then on he never turned us down, he spoke at events for us, telling stories of some of the children we had helped, and took part in carol services for us."

"He will be a great loss to the children in this country," she added.

Sir John told the Press Association of his diagnosis in June 2015, saying that he had started treatment and would continue to work.

He later told the Radio Times: "I can't say I worry about mortality, but it's impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it. "

Sir John enjoyed a big hit with sci-fi horror Alien in 1979 and his character Kane's final scene, in which the xenomorph creature bursts from his chest, has been frequently named as one of the most memorable in cinematic history.

He recently found new fans when he starred as a "forgotten" incarnation of the Doctor, known as the War Doctor, in Doctor Who.

He was knighted by the Queen for services to drama in 2015.

Sir John, who played Caligula in the celebrated BBC drama I, Claudius, also racked up film hits in V For Vendetta, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, John le Carre adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (again alongside Oldman) and Hercules.

Other celebrated roles included his performance as Stephen Ward - a key figure in the Profumo affair - in Scandal and a reprisal of his role as Crisp in An Englishman In New York in 2009, 34 years after his original portrayal of the flamboyant figure.

Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Sir John went to art college before he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and picked up TV and film roles until he had his major breakthrough, appearing in A Man For All Seasons as Richard Rich.

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