The Reprobate is sorry to hear of the death of actor John Hurt, aged 77. A familiar figure in film and television for decades, Hurt was rarely the leading man, but could always be counted on to provide solid support, often playing misfits and vulnerable characters. In real life, Hurt was for many years a genuine reprobate – a hard drinking, hellraising Soho bohemian (back when Soho still had room for genuine bohemians), who would at one point be drinking seven bottles of wine a day and who was once thrown out of Spearmint Rhino for ‘boorish behaviour’. But like many of his contemporaries – Peter O’Toole, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris – Hurt might have been self-destructive off stage, but when it came to work, he could always be relied on to deliver the goods. Finally giving up the booze in 2004, Hurt effortlessly slid from being a cinematic bad boy to respected elder statesman of acting without a pause.
After years of television roles, Hurt’s big break came as he played the doomed Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place, and he cemented his reputation a few years later by playing the lead in the daring TV adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant, following this with I, Claudius, in which he played Caligula. In 1981, he excelled in the title role of The Elephant Man.
Other works of note include British horror films The Ghoul and The Shout, Midnight Express, Alien, East of Elephant Rock, Watership Down, Scandal (in which he played Stephen Ward), The Osterman Weekend and the ill-conceived 1984 version of Orwell’s 1984 – in which his performance as Winston Smith was one of the few impressive moments. He worked relentlessly, right up until this year.