28 Jan 2017

British actor Sir John Hurt dies aged 77

6:35 pm on 28 January 2017

British actor Sir John Hurt has died aged 77, his agent has said.

Sir John Hurt

Sir John Hurt Photo: AFP

The BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated star, known for his roles in Alien and The Elephant Man, continued working despite being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015.

Sir John recently starred as Father Richard McSorley in Jackie, the biopic of President John F Kennedy's wife.

He was given the all-clear in October 2015 but last year pulled out of play The Entertainer due to ill-health. Sir John decided not to perform as Billy Rice in Sir Kenneth Branagh's production on the advice of his doctors.

He starred in more than 200 films and television series over a career spanning six decades.

Tributes have poured in for the star, with US director Mel Brooks described him as creating "cinematic immortality".

Brooks, who directed Sir John in the comedy Spaceballs, said on Twitter: "No one could have played The Elephant Man more memorably."

Sir John, a native of Derbyshire in England, garnered his first Oscar nomination for his supporting role as Max, an inmate who befriends the imprisoned drug smuggler Billy inside a Turkish jail in the gripping 1978 drama Midnight Express.

He earned greater acclaim, and a nomination as best lead actor, for his memorable portrayal of John Merrick, a Victorian-era man struggling to project his humanity while enduring the indignities of life as a sideshow freak. With his face obscured behind the character's deformity, the actor's performance rested largely on the expression of his signature raspy voice.

Watch the trailer for The Elephant Man (1980):

His roles in both The Elephant Man and Midnight Express won him Britain's top film award, the BAFTA. He was bestowed an honorary BAFTA in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to cinema, and was knighted in July 2015.

Sir John also played a key role in the original 1979 sci-fi thriller Alien. His character, Kane, became the first member of a space merchant vessel crew to fall victim to a fearsome life form, encountered on a distant moon, when a deadly parasitic creature burst from his chest.

The scene was famously planned by the director, Ridley Scott, so that only Sir John knew what would happen, ensuring honest reactions from the rest of the cast.

Other notable credits include supporting parts as a village doctor in Greece whose daughter falls in love with an Italian military officer during World War II in the 2001 film Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and as the eccentric wand-maker Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter movie franchise.

As a voice actor, he played Aragorn in the 1978 animated version of Lord of the Rings.

He has been married to former actress and classical pianist Anwen Rees Meyers for 12 years.

- BBC / Reuters / ABC

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