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Sir John Hurt: Bafta-winning actor dies aged 77

John Hurt Image copyright EPA

Sir John Hurt's wife, Anwen, has led tributes to the veteran actor after he died at the age of 77.

The Bafta-winning star, known for his roles in Alien and The Elephant Man, had been treated for pancreatic cancer in 2015.

Sir John's wife said he had brought "joy and magic" and it would be a "strange world without him".

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

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Media captionSigourney Weaver thought Sir John Hurt was dying on scene of Alien - but he was just acting

Despite being given the all-clear from cancer, he last year pulled out of Sir Kenneth Branagh's production of The Entertainer on the advice of his doctors.

Lady Hurt confirmed Sir John had died on Wednesday at his 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," she said in a statement.

"He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him."

US director Mel Brooks described Sir John as "cinematic immortality", as tributes poured in for the star.

Brooks paid tribute to Sir John, who had starred in his comedy Spaceballs, saying on Twitter: "No one could have played The Elephant Man more memorably."

He added: "He carried that film into cinematic immortality. He will be sorely missed."

Sir John also played the part of wand-maker Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films.

Author of the books, JK Rowling, tweeted: "So very sad to hear that the immensely talented and deeply beloved John Hurt has died. My thoughts are with his family and friends."

'Entertaining new audiences to the end'

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By Nick Higham, BBC correspondent

John Hurt was an unusual actor, instantly recognisable, yet never typecast. He seemed to take every part he was offered and make a success of them all.

Other star actors enjoy a decade or two in the sun before their reputation fades. John Hurt continued entertaining new audiences to the end. It made compiling his television obituary difficult: what on earth to leave out, when it was all so good?

He was the deranged Caligula in I, Claudius and those two brave but ostracised outsiders, the gay Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant and the hideously disfigured John Merrick in The Elephant Man. To a younger generation he was the War Doctor in Doctor Who and the wand-maker Mr Ollivander in Harry Potter.

He was blessed with a distinctive voice, gravelly and honeyed, and a characterful face, which as the years passed grew increasingly lined and craggy - the legacy of his years as a hell-raiser.

He was good at complex characters - at once confident and vulnerable, or arrogant yet sympathetic.

And he lived life to the full: four times married, he lived at various times in Oxfordshire, Ireland, Kenya and Norfolk and (having briefly been to art school in his youth) took up painting again towards the end of his life though it's hard to know how he found the time.

Director Guillermo del Toro tweeted: "John Hurt was nothing if not movingly human. Loyal, loving and incredibly intelligent and kind. He was family."

Stephen Fry praised Sir John for being "great on the stage, small screen and big".

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Media captionSir John completed his last film, That Good Night, in 2016. Credit: GSP Studios

The veteran actor's last cinematic role was in That Good Night, in which he played a terminally ill playwright, Ralph.

Despite "his own personal battles with illness" during filming in Portugal last year, the producers said Sir John was "proud" and "keen" to work on the "extremely poignant" project.

Producers Alan Latham and Charles Savage said in a statement: "We watched John in awe during filming and feel privileged to have had this opportunity to work with him."

Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood said: "It was such an honor to have watched you work, sir."

British actor Alfred Molina said Sir John was "a gloriously talented actor, one of the best, of this or any era."


Obituary: 'The mulberry of my mind'

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John Hurt was one of Britain's best-known and most versatile actors.

He was born on 22 January, 1940 in Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Over six decades, he appeared in more than 120 films as well as numerous stage and television roles.

He went to St Martin's School of Art in London, but dropped out. He then gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1960 but said he had been so hungry, he could hardly deliver his lines.

It was not until 1978 that Hurt was recognised as one of cinema's best character actors, gaining an Oscar nomination for his performance as a heroin addict in Alan Parker's Midnight Express.

In 1979, he then starred as Kane in Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror Alien. in The death of his character has often been voted as one of cinema's most memorable moments.

The film critic and historian Geoff Andrew once asked Hurt how he managed to regularly turn in such memorable performances.

"The only way I can describe it is that I put everything I can into the mulberry of my mind and hope that it is going to ferment and make a decent wine," he said.

"How that process happens, I'm sorry to tell you I can't describe."

Read more about Sir John Hurt's life here


Sir John was also known for his off-screen antics, with his drinking splashed across newspapers.

He once even lunged at a pack of paparazzi at a Bafta awards ceremony.

But he said that age had mellowed him and he admitted to being happier sitting with his painting easels than being out on the town.

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Media captionJohn Hurt told Desert Island Discs about how he discovered his love of acting. He was speaking to Roy Plomley in 1984.

Sir John was married four times. His first marriage to actress Annette Robertson lasted two years in the 1960s. In 1968 he started a relationship with the "love of his life" Marie Lise Volpeliere-Porrot - it ended 15 years later when she was killed in a riding accident.

The following year he married US actress Donna Peacock but the couple divorced four years later, although they remained good friends. He married his third wife Jo Dalton in 1990 and they had two sons. They divorced in 1995.

In 2005, he wed Anwen Rees-Myers, a former actress and classical pianist, who was with him until his death.

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Image caption Sir John with his fourth wife Anwen and his two sons, Nicholas and Alexander, from a previous marriage

Sir John was knighted in 2015 for his services to drama.

After his cancer diagnosis the same year, he 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.

"We're all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly."

In 2013, he appeared in Doctor Who as the War Doctor, a hitherto unseen incarnation of the character.

He was still working up until his death, starring in Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie, thriller Damascus Cover and the upcoming biopic of boxer Lenny McLean, My Name Is Lenny.

He was also filming Darkest Hour, in which he starred as Neville Chamberlain opposite Gary Oldman's Winston Churchill, scheduled to be released in December.

Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption Hurt in the role of Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man

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