Sad news from Hollywood over the weekend. Gifted character actor and industry mainstay William Hurt has passed away at 71.
According to son, Will, via Deadline: “It is with great sadness that the Hurt family mourns the passing of William Hurt, beloved father and Oscar winning actor, on March 13, 2022, one week before his 72nd birthday. He died peacefully, among family, of natural causes.”
Originally a theology student, Hurt began his acting journey when he enrolled in the Juliard school in New York in 1972. He worked on stage for a while before scoring his first on-screen role in the Ken Russell body horror film Altered States, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year.
The film that really put him on the map though was his next film, erotic thriller Body Heat, opposite Kathleen Turner. From here his star truly began to rise through the 1980s, with a prominent role in the ensemble comedy The Big Chill. After these successes, he took on his most challenging – and lauded – role to date, and possibly the one he will be most remembered for.
In 1985, Hurt took on the challenging role of Luis Molina, the gay cellmate of Raul Julia’s macho revolutionary, Valentin. The film explores the relationship between the two men that starts with hostility but ends with a degree of understanding between them. This was years before Philadelphia and queer stories were still pretty far from mainstream Hollywood. For his efforts, Hurt won the Best Actor awards at both Cannes and the Academy Awards that year.
This would be the first in a string of three years where he would be nominated for his acting work by the Academy. Next was Children of a Lesser God, opposite future partner Marlee Matlin, who herself would go on to become the first deaf recipient of an Oscar. That was followed by a nomination in 1988 for his work in Broadcast News.
Slump & Comeback
The 1990s was a bit of a lean time for the actor. Although he did work, it didn’t garner the same critical response as his fine work in the previous decade. He did feature in films like Wim Wenders’ mammoth but disappointing Until the End of the World, Chantal Akerman’s A Couch in New York, and the Carl Franklin-directed One True Thing.
However, he started to make a comeback with an atypical role: that of crime boss Richie Cusack in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. This was followed by perhaps a more unexpected turn, when he was cast as General Thaddeus Ross in The Incredible Hulk, where he would continue to play that role through several MCU appearances, the most recent being Avengers: Infinity War.
Hurt is survived by his four children and two former spouses. Marlee Matlin published a memoir that alleged physical and drug abuse during her time with Hurt, for which Hurt categorically apologised.
“My own recollection is that we both apologized and both did a great deal to heal our lives. Of course, I did and do apologize for any pain I caused. And I know we have both grown. I wish Marlee and her family nothing but good.”
Despite this taking something of the shine off the apple in terms of Hurt’s reputation, ultimately he will be remembered as a talented actor. Personally, I think it’s a shame we’ll never get to see him “Hulk out” (Thaddeus Ross is the alter-ego of the Red Hulk, who leads a team like the Avengers called the Thunderbolts in the comics).
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