THE death of British actor John Hurt over the weekend at the age of 77 saddened many movie fans.
But there were also many surprises, especially in the wave of tributes from Who’s Who of Hollywood.
Hurt has worked with almost everyone in his body of work that spans six decades with more than 200 films and TV shows.
His work crosses from Britain to Hollywood and as far as Korea.
Hurt may well be the most prolific actor of our time, dwarfing even the versatile Alec Guinness (“Bridge over the River Kwai” and “Star Wars”).
The one tribute that got people scratching their heads was from Chris Evans, best known as “Captain America” and in “The Avengers” movies.
In a touching tweet, Evans said: “John Hurt was one of the most powerful, giving, and effortlessly real actors I’ve ever worked with, a remarkable human being.
“You will be missed,” he wrote.
Evans and Hurt appear in “Snowpiercer” (2013), a sci-fi thriller directed by Korean Bong Joon-ho in his first English-language debut.
“Snowpiercer” remains South Korea’s most expensive film costing US$40 million. The film also stars Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Go Ah-sung and Ed Harris.
It takes place onboard a globe-spanning train holding the last group of humans on Earth after an attempt at climate engineering creates a new Ice Age.
Evans and Hurt are the principal players trying to reverse the freeze.
To be sure, Hurt is no stranger to the realm of sci-fi and comic-book heroes having starred in the British “Dr Who” series and “Hellboy” where he plays the human father of the red-skinned horned hero.
In “V For Vendetta” he plays an Adolf Hitler-like leader of Britain as Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman tries to free the people.
His extraordinary range extends to comedies like “Spaceballs” which spoofs “Star Wars” and was directed by Mel Brooks.
Yet his most famous sci-fi scene is certainly in Ridley Scott’s “Alien.”
He plays the first victim of the fast-mutating creature as it bursts from his chest.
In the fantasy realm, his work with “Harry Potter” films drew much praise. Potter creator JK Rowlings was among the first to mourn his passing.
On Twitter, she wrote: “So very sad to hear that the immensely talented and deeply beloved John Hurt has died. My thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Fellow Potter actress Bonnie Wright said: “What an acting legend. Rest in peace dear Sir. Wand shopping won’t be the same without you.”
Hurt was the magic wand maker in the films.
Director Brooks said: ‘It was terribly sad today to learn of John Hurt’s passing.
“He was a truly magnificent talent. No one could have played ‘The Elephant Man’ more memorably.
“He carried that film into cinematic immortality. He will be sorely missed.”
“Elephant Man” and “Midnight Express” were two films Hurt received Oscar nominations for but did not win.
Still, his legacy journeys much farther than most actors, criss- crossing between television and cinema.
On television, one of his finest performances was that of the mad Emperor Caligula in “I, Claudius” (1976) playing opposite Derek Jacobi.
His portrayal of a perverse mad man was so riveting, audiences cringed whenever he appears, just like the Romans who tremble when he has his outbursts of lunacy which often ends in violence and murders.
He earned praised very early on in “A Man For All Seasons,” playing the ambitious and crafty Rich who betrays Thomas Moore.
Hurt was born on January 22, 1940 in Chesterfield, central England. He began his career as a teacher of drawing.
But he quickly moved to a life on camera and, after entering the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, he began his film career in the 1960s.
It was at the end of the 1970s when his career definitively took off with “Midnight Express”.
The actor, who received four BAFTAs (UK equivalent of Oscars) was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2014.
Hurt’s credits included playing a village doctor in Greece in the 2001 film “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” that starred Nicolas Cage.
In June 2015, Hurt reported on his website that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer, saying it was early stage and that he was optimistic.
“We’re all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly,” Hurt said in a 2015 interview while undergoing treatments.
Hurt loved making movies. He recalled: “I have lots of favorite memories but I can’t say that I have a favorite film.
“I have favorite parts which are not in particularly successful films,” he said in an interview with the Guardian in 2000.
“I’ve worked with people from Fred Zinnemann, John Huston, through to Richard Fleischer, all of those boys from Hollywood and so on and Sam Peckinpah and then the Mike Radfords … I’ve been incredibly lucky with the directors I’ve worked with.
“You don’t realize it at the time, it’s just in retrospect if you look back you think, ‘Jeez, when I saw that CV it nearly frightened the life out of me’.” I thought, “That’s not bad for an old drunk.”
“Lord of the Rings” actor Elijah Wood who worked with Hurt in “The Oxford Murders” (2008) said: “Very sad to hear of John Hurt’s passing. It was such an honor to have watched you work, sir.”
Hurt’s characters included playing Control, the mentor of the John Le Carre’s hero George Smiley in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” with Gary Oldman and Colin Firth.
Leading British playwright and actor Stephen Fry said: “Oh no. What terrible news.
“We’ve lost John Hurt as great on the stage, small screen and big. A great man and great friend of Norfolk.”
Hurt’s most recent appearance was in the Sundance TV crime series “The Last Panthers.”
For his final role, he played Father Richard McSorley in the biopic “Jackie,” the story of the former American First Lady, which was released in December in the US.
He was however forced to pull out of a play last July on the advice of his doctors.
“It is therefore with great sadness and disappointment that I must withdraw,” he said at the time.
Aside from his wife Anwen, he is survived by two sons, Alexander and Nicholas.
Top: Hurt With Chris Evans in the Korean blockbuster “Snowpiercer.”
First inset: Hurt plays the Wand Maker in “Harry Potter.”
Second inset: His most famous scene in “Alien” where the creature bursts from his chest.
Below: His best TV role was as mad emperor Caligula in “I, Claudius” with Derek Jacobi.
By Cimi Suchontan`