Less than a week after his birthday, veteran actor Sir John Hurt has died at the age of 77.
The prolific actor of stage and screen had suffered from pancreatic cancer, and was forced to cancel a recent appearance in Kenneth Branagh's (Cinderella) production of The Entertainer due to ill health. In a career spanning six decades and nearly 130 film roles, Hurt's contribution to cinema lead to a knighthood, four BAFTA awards, two Academy Award® nominations, a Golden Globe, and cinematic immortality.
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."
Born on 22 January 1940 in Derbyshire, Hurt studied at the star making drama school RADA, and quickly won early prominent roles in British film and television during the 1960s and 1970s, notably 10 Rillington Place (1971), the landmark BBC miniseries I, Claudius, and as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant (1975), for which Hurt won his first BAFTA, aged 35.
He became internationally recognised in 1978 with Alan Parker's Midnight Express, which earned Hurt a Golden Globe and an Academy Award® nomination. But his first truly iconic role came in 1979 with Ridley Scott's acclaimed science fiction horror Alien – eternally memorable for the shocking scene where the baby xenomorph suddenly bursts out of Hurt's chest during a relaxed meal.
Another iconic role followed in 1980 with David Lynch's The Elephant Man, where Hurt played the disfigured Victorian man John Merrick with sensitivity and rare insight. It earned Hurt his third BAFTA and another Academy Award® nod.
For a generation of children (and many adults), he was best known as Mr Ollivander, the Diagon Alley wand maker in the Harry Potter series. For others, he may be best known as the War Doctor in Doctor Who, playing the famous time-traveller in three special episodes to mark the series' 50th anniversary. Hurt's range was so immense that he could have roles in challenging, experimental material like Lars von Trier's Melancholia (2011) as easily as voicing a rabbit in Watership Down (1978).
The film critic and historian Geoff Andrew 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," he said, "and hope that it is going to ferment and make a decent wine. How that process happens, I'm sorry to tell you I can't describe."
Despite his ill health, he continued to work prolifically, with four of his films still to be released posthumously in the UK, including the Oscar tipped political biopic Jackie, an adaptation of the play That Good Night, and a role as Neville Chamberlain opposite Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises) as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.
After his cancer diagnosis in 2015, 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."
US director Mel Brooks paid tribute to Sir John, who had starred in his comedy Spaceballs (1987), saying on Twitter: "No one could have played The Elephant Man more memorably."
Harry Potter author J.K. 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."
Bonnie Wright, who played Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter series, tweeted: "John Hurt. What an acting legend. Rest in peace dear Sir. Wand shopping won't be the same without you."
Lord Of The Rings star Elijah Wood said: "It was such an honor to have watched you work, sir."
British actor Alfred Molina (An Education) said Sir John was "a gloriously talented actor, one of the best, of this or any era."
Hurt is survived by his two sons and his fourth wife, of 12 years, Anwen Rees-Myers, a former actress and classical pianist.
Our thoughts are with his friends and family.