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William Hurt - An Obituary

William Hurt – Actor

 Born March 20, 1950; died March 13, 2022 


William Hurt, who has died aged 71, was an actor who won an Oscar for his role in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985). Adapted from Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel, director Hector Babenco’s film cast Hurt as Luis Molina, a gay prisoner sharing a cell with a political activist during Brazil’s then current military dictatorship. Luis survives his ordeal by recounting scenes from the wartime movie that gives Babenco’s film its title.


It was a bravura role for Hurt, who came to prominence several years earlier in his big screen debut, playing an obsessed scientist in the Ken Russell directed Altered States (1980). The run of films that followed saw Hurt play a small town lawyer opposite Kathleen Turner in Body Heat (1981), then a Vietnam war veteran reuniting with college buddies at their classmate’s funeral in The Big Chill (1983). Both were directed by Lawrence Kasdan. The same year as The Big Chill, Hurt played a Russian police officer in Gorky Park (1983), Michael Apted’s Dennis Potter scripted adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s novel.


Kasdan cast Hurt in two other films. In The Accidental Tourist (1988), he was a grieving travel writer brought back to life by Geena Davis’s dog trainer. I Love You to Death (1990) saw him form a double act with Keanu Reeves as hapless drug-addled hit men hired to bump off Kevin Kline’s adulterous restaurant boss.


Following Kiss of the Spider Woman, Hurt was Oscar nominated twice more; for Children of a Lesser God (1986), in which he played a teacher at a school for the deaf; and for Broadcast News (1987), as a dim but charismatic TV sports reporter turned news anchorman who is more of an entertainer than a journalist. More recently, he received a fourth nomination for his supporting role as a crime boss in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005).


By this time, Hurt had moved from lead roles to character parts. He latterly joined the 

Marvel franchise, initially in The Incredible Hulk (2008) as U.S. general, Thaddeus Ross. He revisited the role in four other Marvel films; Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), and Black Widow (2021).


While he took his craft seriously, Hurt’s acting career was overshadowed at points by a messy personal life. While still married to his first wife, Mary Beth Hurt, he began a relationship with Sandra Jennings. Jennings subsequently sued him to try and get their relationship recognised as a common-law marriage.


Hurt went on to have a relationship with Marlee Matlin, who co-starred with him in Children of a Lesser God, winning a Best Actress Oscar. In 2009, Matlin’s autobiography, I‘ll Scream Later, wrote of how she was physically, psychologically and sexually abused by Hurt. He never denied the claims.


William McChord Hurt was born in Washington, D.C., one of three sons to Claire (nee McGill), who worked at Time Inc, and Alfred Hurt, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department. His parents divorced when Hurt was ten, and his mother remarried. Hurt lived with his father in Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan.


He attended Middlesex School, Massachusetts, where he was vice president of the Dramatic Club, and played the lead in several school plays. On graduating in 1968, his school yearbook suggested that ‘you might even see him on Broadway.’ That was a few years away yet, with Hurt studying theology at Tufts University, Massachusetts, before joining the Juilliard School in New York, where classmates included Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams.


Hurt joined the Circle Repertory Company, and won an Obie Award for his debut appearance in Corinne Jacker’s play, My Life. He worked with the company for five years, between 1977 and 1982, appearing in Lanford Wilson’s play, Fifth of July, Ulysses in Traction, by Albert Innaurato, and Lulu, by Frank Wedekind. In 1979, he played Hamlet opposite Lindsay Crouse.


Other theatre work included a Tony nomination for Mike Nichols’s 1985 production of David Rabe’s play, Hurly Burley. In 1989, he returned to the Circle Rep in Joe Pintauro’s play, Beside Herself.


After his first high profile flush of films, Hurt starred in Wim Wenders’ near future epic, Until the End of the World (1990), as a fugitive on the run from the CIA, who want to confiscate a device invented by the man’s father, which allows people to record their dreams. 


Hurt went on to play Mr Rochester in Franco Zeffirelli’s film of Jane Eyre (1996). Though he worked constantly, the next two decades saw him largely take on supporting roles. There were appearances in the likes of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), before he joined the Marvel Universe a few years later. 


He was a regular in the second series of legal drama, Damages (2009), and latterly appeared in the first series of SF drama, Humans (2015). Hurt played an aging scientist looked after by his out of date humanoid ‘synth’, which he had a hand in creating. He was later a series regular in another legal series, Goliath (2016-2021).


Hurt was married twice, to Mary Beth Hurt from 1971 to 1982, and to Heidi Henderson from 1989 to 1992.


He is survived by four children; his son, Alexander, with Sandra Jennings; two sons, William and Samual, with Heidi Henderson; and a daughter, Jeanne, with Sandrine Bonnaire.

The Herald, March 15th 2022




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