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Hurt, John Biography




biography of Hurt, John

Hurt, John Vincent
22 January 1940, Shirebrook, Derbyshire, England, UK
5' 9"
This transatlantic talent was born John Vincent Hurt on January 22, 1940 in Shirebrook, a coal mining village near the busy market town of Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, England, to a parish vicar and a one-time actress. The youngest of three children, he spent much of his childhood in solitude. Demonstrating little initiative, he was guided into art as a possible direction. The family moved to Grimsby when he turned twelve and, despite an active early passion in acting, his parents thought less of it and enrolled him at the Grimsby Art School and St. Martin's School of Art where he showed some flourish. When he couldn't manage to get another scholarship to art school, his focus invariably turned to acting. Accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, John made his stage debut in 1962 and remained there in typically offbeat form such plays as "Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger". An odd, somber, pasty-looking fellow with an aquiline nose (injured while playing sports) and a mass of Irish freckles, he was hardly leading man material. His earlier focus as a painter, however, triggered a keen skill in the art of observation and it certainly advanced his talent for getting into the skin of his characters. His movie debut occurred that same year with a supporting role in the ill-received British "angry young man" drama _The Wild and the Willing (1962)_ (qv). Appearing in various mediums, John increased his profile (and respect) appearing in such theatre plays as "Inadmissible Evidence" (1965), "Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs" (1966), a role he later took to film as _Little Malcolm (1974)_ (qv), "Macbeth" (as Malcolm) (1967) and "Man and Superman" (1969), while finding prime parts in such films as _A Man for All Seasons (1966)_ (qv), a role he was given after director 'Fred Zinnemann' (qv) saw his stellar work in "Little Malcolm." He continued on the stage as an unlikely Romeo in 1973, and went on to garner great applause in Pinter's "The Caretaker" and "The Dumb Waiter", as well as "Travesties" (1974). It was TV, however, that displayed the full magnitude and fearless range of his acting instrument. In the mid-70s he gained widespread acclaim for his embodiment of the tormented gay writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp in the landmark TV play _The Naked Civil Servant (1975) (TV)_ (qv), adapted from Crisp's autobiography. Way, way ahead of its time, Hurt's bold and unabashed take on the flamboyant and controversial gent who dared to be different was rewarded with the Emmy and the British TV Awards. Far and away one of the most marvelous creations ever captured on the small screen, he was altogether unsettling, unappetizing and unforgettable. Audiences cringed but were mesmerized at the same time -- like a car wreck. He WAS Quentin Crisp. Doors immediately opened for John. He was handed the best parts film and TV had to offer. Once again he was strikingly disturbing as the cruel and crazed Roman emperor Caligula in the epic TV masterpiece _"I, Claudius" (1976)_ (qv). The chameleon in him then displayed a polar side as the gentle, pathetically disfigured title role in _The Elephant Man (1980)_ (qv), and when he morphed into the role of a tortured Turkish prison inmate who befriends 'Brad Davis (I)' (qv) in the intense drama _Midnight Express (1978)_ (qv), he was barely recognizable. The last two films earned Hurt Oscar nominations. Mainstream box-office films were offered as well as art films. He made the most of his role as a crew member whose body becomes host to an unearthly predator in _Alien (1979)_ (qv). Who can forget the film's most notorious scene as the creature explodes from Hurt's stomach and scurries away into the bowels of the spaceship? Along with fame, of course, came a few misguided ventures generally unworthy of his talent. Such brilliant work as his steeple chase jockey in _Champions (1984)_ (qv) or kidnapper in _The Hit (1984)_ (qv) was occasionally offset by such drivel as the comedy misfire _Partners (1982)_ (qv) with 'Ryan O'Neal (I)' in which Hurt looked enervated and embarrassed. But those were very few and far between. As for the past couple of decades, the craggy-faced actor continues to draw extraordinary notices. Tops on the list includes his prurient governmental gadfly who triggers the Christine Keeler political sex scandal in the aptly-titled _Scandal (1989)_ (qv); the cultivated gay writer aroused and obsessed with struggling "pretty-boy" actor 'Jason Priestley' (qv) in _Love and Death on Long Island (1997)_ (qv); and the Catholic priest embroiled in the Rwanda atrocities in _Shooting Dogs (2005)_ (qv). His rich tones have also been tapped into frequently with a number of animated features and documentaries, often serving as narrator. Presently married to his fourth wife, genius is often accompanied by a darker, more self-destructive side and Hurt was no exception with alcohol being his choice of poison. He has since recovered. He has two children from his third wife.
Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net



-   'Annette Robertson (I)' (qv) (1962 - 1964) (divorced)

-   'Jo Dalton' (qv) (24 January 1990 - 1996) (divorced); 2 children

-   'Anwen Rees-Myers' (qv) (March 2005 - present)

-   'Donna Peacock' (6 September 1984 - 1990) (divorced)


-   His distinctive voice

-   Frequently plays characters who suffer physical torment

-   Often plays characters with positions of power

-   Deep Gravelly Voice


-   He lived with Marie-Lise Volpeliere-Pierrot from 1967-1983, when she was killed in a riding accident.

-   Trained to become a painter at Grimsby Art School.

-   Studied at RADA.

-   He is an Associate of RADA.

-   He did the film _History of the World: Part I (1981)_ (qv) because he had just gotten through doing two seriously dramatic films and said that he wanted to have fun and do a comedy.

-   Has two sons with 'Jo Dalton' (qv): Nicolas and Alexander.

-   Has worked with two Boromirs. In 'Ralph Bakshi' (qv)'s film _The Lord of the Rings (1978)_ (qv), he provided the voice of "Aragorn", opposite 'Michael Graham Cox' (qv) (as "Boromir") who went on to reprise the role for BBC radio. He later appeared in _The Field (1990)_ (qv) with 'Sean Bean' (qv), who played the role in 'Peter Jackson (I)' (qv)'s adaptation.

-   His mother opened a school at his father's vicarage when he was five.

-   Is the youngest of three children.

-   Father was a vicar in Derbyshire.

-   Spoofs his role from _Alien (1979)_ (qv) in _Spaceballs (1987)_ (qv).

-   26th January 2006, received an honorary Doctorate in Letters from the University of Hull, Yorkshire.

-   Was not the first choice for the role of "Kane" in _Alien (1979)_ (qv). He was brought in on the second day of filming after 'Jon Finch (I)' (qv), the original actor cast for the role, was diagnosed with a severe case of diabetes and taken to hospital.

-   As Winston Smith in _Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)_ (qv) he portrays a victim of a totalitarian society, with Big Brother as its head. In _V for Vendetta (2005)_ (qv), he portrays the "Big Brother"-type leader "Chancellor Sutler".

-   Provided the voice of Aragorn in 'Ralph Bakshi' (qv)'s film _The Lord of the Rings (1978)_ (qv). Though not a financial success, it sparked enough interest in Tolkien's works that the BBC decided to air its own adaptation, and it was also what inspired 'Peter Jackson (I)' (qv) to make his live-action films. Both subsequent adaptations featured 'Ian Holm' (qv), with whom Hurt appeared in _Alien (1979)_ (qv).

-   An early passion for acting was triggered when he saw 'Alec Guinness' (qv) play Fagin in the film _Oliver Twist (1948)_ (qv).

-   His sister became a school teacher in Australia; his brother, the eldest child, a Roman Catholic monk.

-   Was offered the role of Dr. Yueh in _Dune (1984)_ (qv).

-   Was friends with the late 'John Entwistle' (qv), bassist and founding member of 'The Who' (qv). He had written a poem about him and read it out loud at his memorial October 24th, 2002.

-   He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2004 Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to Drama.

-   The make-up he wore to play _The Elephant Man (1980)_ (qv) also inspired the appearance of Gothmog in 'Peter Jackson (I)' (qv)'s _The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)_ (qv).

-   Was considered for the role of Dr.Sam Loomis in _Halloween (2007)_ (qv).

-   Once an alcoholic, he quit drinking after his fourth marriage in 2005.

-   He played the Roman Emperor Caligula between the ages of 16 (in 29 AD) and 28 (in 41 AD) in _"I, Claudius" (1976)_ (qv).


-   TV commercial: "Enron" (voice only)

-   (1999) Narration for 'The Art of Noise' (qv) album "The Seduction of Claude Debussy"

-   Voiceovers: Did voiceovers for a number of British public information films, most notably the earliest AIDS campaigns 1987-1989. Also provided voiceovers for TV licensing campaigns in 2000.

-   (1997) Narrated the BBC 1 (QED) documentary The True Story of the Elephant Man - The Life Story and Medical Condition of Joseph Merrick (1997) (TV)

-   Music video: Appeared in 'Paul McCartney' (qv)'s "Take It Away" video.

-   (2002) Stage: Appeared (as "Andrey") in "Afterplay" by 'Brian Friel (I)' (qv). Gate Theatre, Dublin/ Gielgud Theatre, London

-   (2003) Music video: Appeared on drag in "Attitude" video for the British rock band Suede.

-   (12/05) Stage: Appeared (as "Gustave") in "Heroes", Wyndham's Theatre, London (December 2005)

-   (2005) TV commercial (voiceover): AOL/discuss

-   (1994) Stage: Appeared in "A Month in the Country", Albery Theatre, London (1994)

-   (1992) Stage: Appeared (as "Count Mushroom") in "London Vertigo" by 'Brian Friel (I)' (qv), Gate Theatre, Dublin, Ireland.

-   (1985) Stage: Appeared (as "Trigorin") in 'Anton Chekhov' (qv)'s "The Seagull", Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, UK.

-   (1978) Stage: Appeared (as "Donal") in "The Shadow of a Gunman", Nottingham Playhouse, UK.

-   (1974) Stage: Appeared in "The Arrest", Bristol Old Vic Theatre

-   (1974) Stage: Appeared (as "Tristan Tzara") in "Travesties" by 'Tom Stoppard' (qv), Royal Shakespeare Company.

-   (1973 Stage: Appeared (as "Martin") in "The Only Street", Dublin Festival/ King's Head Theatre, London, UK.

-   (1973) Stage: Appeared (as "Romeo") in 'William Shakespeare (I)' (qv)'s's "Romeo and Juliet", Coventry (1973), UK.

-   (1972) Stage: Appeared (as "Peter") in "Ride a Cocked Horse", Hampstead Theatre, London, UK.

-   (1973) Stage: Appeared (as "The Ruffian") in "The Ruffian on the Stair", Soho Poly Theatre, London, UK. ).

-   (1972) Stage: Appeared (as "Mick") in "The Caretaker" by 'Harold Pinter' (qv), Mermaid Theatre, London, UK.

-   (1969) Appeared (as "Octavius") in 'George Bernard Shaw' (qv)'s "Man and Superman", Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, Ireland.

-   (1966) Stage: Appeared (as title character) in "Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs". Garrick Theatre, London, England.

-   (1965) Stage: Appeared (as "Jones") in "Inadmissible Evidence", Wyndham's Theatre, London, England.

-   (1965) Stage: Appeared (as "Hamp") in "Hamp". Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland.

-   (1963) Stage: Appeared (as "Len" in "The Dwarfs", Arts Theatre, London, England.

-   (1962) Stage: Appeared in "Chips with Everything", Vaudeville Theatre, London, England.

-   (1962) Stage: Appeared (as "Knocker White") in "Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger", Arts Theatre, London

-   (2000) Stage: Appeared (as "Krapp") in "Krapp's Last Tape" by 'Harold Pinter' (qv). Ambassador's Theater, London, England (filmed as _Krapp's Last Tape (2000) (TV)_ (qv))

-   (1965) Stage: Appeared in 'John Osborne (I)' (qv)'s "Inadmissible Evidence" at the Wyndham's Theatre in London, England. Also in cast: 'Nicol Williamson' (qv), Ann Beach, Cyril Raymond, Clare Kelly, Coral Atkins, Eleanor Fazan. Directed by 'Anthony Page (I)' (qv). Produced by English Stage Company.

-   (1966) Stage: Appeared in 'David Halliwell (I)' (qv)'s "Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs," at the Garrick Theatre in London, England. Also in cast: Rodney Bewes, Tim Preece, Kenneth Colley, Susan Ashworth. 'Patrick Dromgoole' (qv) was director.

-   (1973) Stage: Appeared (as "Ben") in "The Dumb Waiter" by 'Harold Pinter' (qv), Soho Poly Theatre, London, UK.

-   (1966) Stage: Appeared (as "Victor") in "Belcher's Luck", Royal Shakespeare Company.

-   (1974) Stage: Appeared in 'Tom Stoppard' (qv)'s "Travesties" in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England with John Wood, Tom Bell, Frank Windsor, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, and Maria Aitken in the cast. 'Peter Wood (XVI)' (qv) was director.

-   (1994) He acted in Ivan Turgenev's play, "A Month in the Country," at the Albery Theatre in London, England with Helen Mirren, Joseph Fiennes, John Standing, Gawn Grainger, Gillian Raine, Polly Adams, Peter Sproule, and Trevor Ray in the cast. Bill Bryden was director.

-   (October 1969) He acted in George Bernard Shaw's play, "Man and Superman," at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, Ireland with Peter O'Toole, Susannah York, Donal McCann, Nigel Stock, and Mary Wimbush in the cast. Nat Brenner was director.

-   (29 November-04 December 2011): Plays Krapp in "Krapp's Last Tape" play by Samuel Beckett (The Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre, Washington, DC, USA)

-   (2012) TV commercial (voice-over) for "Sky" cable TV

-   (1965) He played Ferdinand in a Caedmon Audio presentation of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" with Michael Redgrave, Hugh Griffith, Vanessa Redgrave, Anna Massey, Edward Atienza, Cyril Luckman, Peter Woodthorpe, Robert Hardy, Alec McCowen, and Ronnie Baker in the cast.


-   I've done some stinkers in the cinema. You can't regret it; there are always reasons for doing something, even if it's just the location.

-   We are all racing towards death. No matter how many great, intellectual conclusions we draw during our lives, we know they're all only man-made, like God. I begin to wonder where it all leads. What can you do, except do what you can do as best you know how.

-   People like us, who turn ourselves inside out for a living, we get into an emotional tussle rather than a marriage. It's fire I'm playing with and it isn't surprising I'm not the ideal companion on a daily basis. But it takes two. I mean, Christ, I haven't forced anybody.

-   St Michael's was one of those very rarefied, very Anglo-Catholic establishments where they rejoiced in more religious paraphernalia and theatricality than the entire Vatican. More incense-swinging, more crucifixes, more gold tassels, more rose petals, more holy mothers, more God knows what. Three times a day they played the Angelus. When you heard it, you had to stop whatever you were doing, do the Hail Marys in your head, and then return to what you were doing. Like it would come in the middle of a Latin class. I'm just conjugating the love verb, amo, amas, amat, and doingggg! you have to stand up, go through the whole Angelus, mother-of-God thing and then crack on with amamus, amatis, amant. Sir! Because, if you didn't, Whack! Cane. Belt. Education by fear. And the really funny thing was they wouldn't tolerate bullying between peers. Prefects could bash you with a slipper, but you weren't allowed to give each other a rough time. Like who do you think you are? You haven't yet earned the privilege of being violent.

-   My parents' lot had literally crawled away from the second world war, taking with them two vital commodities by way of a survival mechanism: respectability and security. It was odd, coming from a Christian household, but the big thing was about not being what they called "common". I got all that, "Don't play with him, he's common". I had a friend called Grenville Barker who'd come round sometimes and play football on the lawn, but not very often. And I wasn't allowed to go to his home very often because they were working class. He was what my mother called a bad influence. Everything had to do with influence. My mother was desperate I should be properly influenced, have a proper, received accent, be sent away to school at eight. So all you can do is go into yourself, immerse yourself in your own life.

-   I couldn't possibly do that. To be able to understand being five years old and write as if you were that age through the book till you get to that extraordinary flowery-pretentious age of the 18-/19-year-old. It's so complicated when you're dealing with memory because of the perspective and how it keeps changing. You have to learn how you see things. It's about...lordy-me, I've forgotten the word. This time in the morning. Never mind, come to me in a moment, let's have more coffee...conditioning.

-   There is no such thing as all good people and all bad people. We're all capable. It exists within us. In war-time, as we're finding out now, things that have been on camera, our wonderful troops, who we felt were absolutely impeccable, were as guilty as everybody else of. If you're given license to kill, it's going to release many an evil.

-   Someone once asked me, "Is there anything you regret?" and I said, "Everything!" Whatever you do, there was always a better choice.

-   I've always felt, and I think I'm qualified to say so because I've won a few awards, that it's a terrible shame to put something in competition with something else to be able to sell something. Confronted with films like _Brokeback Mountain (2005)_ (qv) and _Capote (2005)_ (qv) and the 'Johnny Cash (I)' (qv) movie (_Walk the Line (2005)_ (qv)), you can't pit one against the other. Films are not made to be competitive in that sense.

-   "If" and "only" are the two words in the English language that should never be put together.

-   You know, I've never guided my life. I've just been whipped along by the waves I'm sitting in. I don't make plans at all. Plans are what make God laugh. You can make plans, you can make so many plans, but they never go right, do they?

-   Also, the wonderful thing about film, you can see light at the end of the tunnel. You did realize that it is going to come to an end at some stage.

-   I first decided that I wanted to act when I was 9. And I was at a very bizarre prep school at the time, to say high Anglo-Catholic would be a real English understatement.

-   I've spent a great deal of my life doing independent film, and that is partly because the subject matter interests me and partly because that is the basis of the film industry. That's where the filmmakers come from, it's where they start and sometimes its where they should have stayed.

-   [on David Niven] Now if I could be David Niven, I'd be content. He knows how to live life. He's charming, he's amusing, he's so up. An up man! I'm sure he's also complicated, but he never lays it on you.

-   I remember talking to Olivier when we were doing Lear. He said: 'When it comes to your obituary they will only mention two or three performances, and they will be the ones that defined you early on.' I said: 'What will they write about you?' '_Richard III (1955)_ (qv) and _Wuthering Heights (1939)_ (qv)_', he replied. And he was right.

-   I have done all sorts of extraordinary things, I know. At the time I didn't think anything of it. But when you look back you think, 'Jesus Christ!' [Would I live it again?] No thank you. I'm with Beckett there. It's not good enough to die. One has to be forgotten.

-   On his drinking: "I wasn't like 'Oliver Reed (I)' (qv). He was a competitive drinker. He'd say, 'I can drink you under the fucking table.' And I'd say: 'I'm sure you could, Oliver. But where's the fun in that?' "

-   Oh God, yes, there are moments where you say, 'Wouldn't it have been nice?' Look at 'Daniel Day-Lewis' (qv), he's handled himself very well. He keeps retiring. I wish I'd thought of that! No, I know Danny well, and he's very amusing. But he certainly has a very cute understanding of the game. And he's got them eating out of his hand.

-   On playing gay characters: "It's a big deal for some actors, and for some people. But I understand it. I was away at school, you know?"

-   On making _Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)_ (qv): "I don't suppose we could talk about the lack of enjoyment in making it?"

-   It's more like 1984 meets Alien, if you want to do one of those modern meetings, than it is Orwellian in that sense. It's borrowed abit from Orwell.

-   [on the themes of 'V for Vendetta'] It's more like 1984 meets Alien, if you want to do one of those modern meetings, than it is Orwellian in that sense. It's borrowed a bit from Orwell.

-   Well, I would say that if you could manage to get to the end of The Elephant Man without being moved... I don't think you'd be someone I'd want to know.

-   (2011, on The Osterman Weekend) The script was pretty difficult. So was Sam [Peckinpah]. It wasn't until I made him laugh that I thought, "Thank God." There's a scene in the film where I have to imitate a weatherman, and that had Sam rolling in the aisles. Before that, he would say things like, "Why do you move so fast?" He wasn't exactly encouraging of confidence. But afterwards, I couldn't put a foot wrong. We were terrific, and I saw him until the day that he died.

-   (2011, on Spaceballs) Mel [Brooks] called and said, "Look, John, I'm doing this little movie and there's a bit in there that has to do with Alien, so come on over." He made it sound like a bit of a picnic. He also did that to me on History Of The World: Part I. He always does that. "Come on, I'll give you a couple grand, we'll put you up in a nice hotel, you'll have a good time, and then you can go back again." And when you get there, you suddenly realize, it's a $3 million scene-God knows how much the animatronic singing and dancing alien cost-and they couldn't possibly have done it if it hadn't been for you. What I'm saying is, I think he got me rather cheap.

-   (2011) I'm not interested in awards. I never have been. I don't think they are important. Don't get me wrong, if somebody gives me a prize, I thank them as gratefully as I know how, because it's very nice to be given a prize. But I don't think that awards ought to be sought. It encourages our business to be competitive in absolutely the wrong way. We're not sportsmen; we're not trying to come in first.

-   (2011, on The Elephant Man) It took 12 hours to apply the original makeup. I thought to myself, "They have actually found a way of making me not enjoy a film." Christopher Tucker, who devised the makeup, applied it that first day and when he was done, I hobbled into the studio. I was in terror of anybody laughing, because if anybody had giggled or laughed at all, the whole house of cards would have collapsed. But there was an absolute hushed silence, which was only broken by Anthony Hopkins saying, "Let's do the test." So it started, and that spell lasted.

-   (2011, on why he did King Ralph) Well, the coffers run low every now and then. And my friend Peter O'Toole was doing it, the idea wasn't so bad, and I was a big admirer of John Goodman. But I have to say, the director [David S. Ward], who I believe is a good writer, is not a good director. He really did make the whole thing turgid and difficult. It looked like it would be a lot of fun, but it turned out to be not a lot of fun at all. It was take after take after take for no possible reason. You couldn't tell the difference between it and the dirt on the ground.

-   (2011, on Frankenstein Unbound) Everybody's got to work with Roger Corman. You can't leave out that experience. I was amazed when I met him, because I was expecting to see this rather freaky character with hair all over the place-a complete crazy man. But he wasn't. He was dressed in a tie and a suit, with very neat hair. At first, I thought he was a solicitor.

-   (2011, on V For Vendetta) We shot it in Berlin, so it was strange behaving like Hitler in the middle of that city. Some of the locations were exactly where Hitler gave speeches.


-   (May 2009) London, England


-   "The Times" (UK), 8 May 2008, by: Kevin Maher, "Me and Mr Jones: is John Hurt the latest Indiana Jones villain?"

-   "The Big Issue" (UK), 25 July 2005, pg. 14-16, by: Leigh Singer, "Eloquent Man"

-   "Starlog" (USA), April 1985, Vol. 8, Iss. 93, pg. 37-39,+63, by: Adam Pirani, "John Hurt: Big Brother Is Watching"


-   "The Boston Globe" (USA), 5 November 2010, by: Alex Beam, "Home/Lifestyle - Movie News II"

-   "The Boston Herald" (USA), 31 October 2010, by: Donna Goodison, "Eccentric Film Plans Hub Shoot"

-   "Premiere" (USA), April 2006, Vol. 19, Iss. 7, pg. 104-105, by: Webster, Andy, ""DVD Essential Filmography""

-   "The Daily Express" (UK), 17 March 2004, pg. 57

-   "Salon.com" (U.S.A.), 18 March 2003, by: Cintra Wilson, "A world of Hurt"

-   "Irish Independent" (Ireland), 2 May 2001, pg. 14, by: Carrie Grimes, "Hurt: His age is finally catching up with his looks"

-   "Madison" (USA), October 1999, Vol. 1, Iss. 9, pg. 88-95, by: Richard Natale, "The Razor's Edge"

-   "Playboy" (USA), May 1989, Vol. 36, Iss. 5, pg. 86-94, by: Michael Thomas, "Scandal"

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