It Hurt(s) to say good­bye for real

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Italked to him just last year, at length, about death. Sel­dom had an ac­tor died so well, or so of­ten, in so many movies, I said, and he agreed.

Over the course of his long ca­reer, John Hurt had been bot­tled and speared, shot and burnt, stabbed and blown up, stran­gled and drowned.

He had been elec­tro­cuted and hanged. A thug had beaten him to blanc­mange with a base­ball bat. Some­one else flung him over the para­pet of a cas­tle on to the jagged rocks below.

There was an­other par­tic­u­larly splen­did death when that vile crit­ter burst out of his chest in Alien. He had even man­aged to ex­pire as a lit­tle fluffy bunny in Water­ship Down.

Some­one col­lated all of the ac­tor’s dra­matic demises. In­ter­ested par­ties are di­rected to a YouTube clip called The Many Deaths of John Hurt ,in which our hero karks it 40 times.

‘‘Yes, it’s true!’’ said Hurt, in a glo­ri­ous posh voice that made me think of port and pipe to­bacco. I pic­tured him sit­ting in the sort of el­e­gantly ap­pointed Lon­don draw­ing room where a sin­gle an­tique roll-top desk was worth more than my en­tire house.

‘‘I have died in so many spec­tac­u­lar ways, and I re­mem­ber shoot­ing them all, too. I imag­ine all those deaths will flash in front of me when I’m on my deathbed, faced with the real thing.’’

Whether that hap­pened, I couldn’t say. But the ven­er­a­ble Bri­tish ac­tor has fi­nally gone to meet his maker for real.

John Hurt died on Satur­day, Jan­uary 28, aged 77. I was shocked to hear the news. He struck me as a deeply gifted and mis­chievous soul, and the world is a lit­tle poorer for his loss.

When I spoke to him, death was a hot topic. I sug­gested Hurt was per­haps the ‘‘most killed’’ ac­tor of his gen­er­a­tion. He chuck­led and agreed that this might well be true.

‘‘Ha, yes! That’s en­tirely pos­si­ble. My sur­name cer­tainly sug­gests a man whose des­tiny has al­ways been in­jury.’’

Hurt was born in Der­byshire, the son of a de­vout vicar, and his decision to be­come an ac­tor was a great dis­ap­point­ment to his par­ents, who wanted him to be­come an art teacher.

Alien, Midnight Ex­press, The Naked Civil Ser­vant, The Ele­phant Man .He es­tab­lished his rep­u­ta­tion with a brace of key films made in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but also shone in big­bud­get fran­chise flicks such as Harry Pot­ter, In­di­ana Jones, and Hell­boy. He was still busy last year, and told me he felt lucky to be work­ing at all after sur­viv­ing pan­cre­atic can­cer in 2015. ‘‘That was a very scary pe­riod, but for­tu­nately, I’m now in full re­mis­sion.’’

Four times mar­ried, Hurt was once a no­to­ri­ous drinker and wom­an­iser; he’d been turfed out of some of the most ex­clu­sive booz­ers in Lon­don along­side old mates Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed.

But the self-de­scribed ‘‘old drunk’’ had stopped drink­ing. His great­est plea­sure these days was paint­ing.

‘‘I started do­ing it as a young man. It’s in­cred­i­bly tan­ta­lis­ing and in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult at the same time.’’ Hurt had never ex­hib­ited his work, ‘‘but that day may well come’’.

I sug­gested he’d bet­ter pull his fin­ger out, given that he was al­ready 76. ‘‘Yes, that’s true. It’s hard to know how much time I have left.’’

Not much, as it tran­spired. John Vin­cent Hurt will be missed, on our screens and in the lives of those who loved him. And I hope those paint­ings might fi­nally see the light of day.

'I imag­ine all those deaths will flash in front of me when I'm on my deathbed, faced with the real thing.' John Hurt

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