Remembering John Hurt

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By: Renee Hecht, Alicia Whavers, Glynis Neely, Allyssa Ellen & Emily Miller

2017 was already off to a bitter start for most of us, and it seems there is still more bad news on the way. John Hurt passed away Friday, just three days after his 77th birthday. This was a man who struggled with pancreatic cancer in 2015 and who even bested it for a time. This was a man who had such phenomenal range he could play both Winston Smith- the protagonist of 1984– and Chancellor Sutler – the insidious dictator from V for Vendetta.

He voiced both the devilish Horned King in Disney’s The Black Cauldron, and the wise dragon Kilgharrah in BBC’s Merlin. He has been a time traveller (Dr. Who), a wizard (Harry Potter), and yes, he has even been Jesus Christ (History of the World part 1).

Sir John Hurt helped to tell many, many stories over his decades-long career. Including, as it happens, the stories of children in need. Though he never drew much attention to it, he was a fundraiser for ChildLine, “the first national helpline for children in danger or distress,” launched in 1986. The charity provides a helpline for anyone in the UK under the age of 19. They are free to speak confidently with a counsellor about any issues they may have, big or small.

Though his story has come to an end, I do not doubt that his contributions helped many others find the strength to keep going.  Rest in peace, Sir John Vincent Hurt, and thank you for all you have given us. -Renee Hecht

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Yesterday, the world lost another shining star: John Hurt. Or to be more specific and demonstrative of his accomplishments, Sir John Vincent Hurt, CBE. That’s right! He was so accomplished as an actor and patron of the arts, that he received a knight-ship. Many know him as The Doctor, a traveler of time and space; or as Mr. Ollivander, the man who gave Harry Potter his first wand. For those who are Mel Brooks fans, you may recognize him from Spaceballs.

But my first encounter with him was as Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. No! Not the ridiculously successful blockbuster film that made “You shall not pass!” a famous quote for the ages. I am talking about the 1978 animated film. I remember my mother buying the movie for me when I was still in single digits. Totally uninterested and riding the high from reading my first Harry Potter book, I approached it with disinterest. Until I realized that it was the forefather to my beloved Harry Potter books. And the two most memorable things from that movie was 1) Legolas, because no matter what format you create him in, Legolas will always be a hot elf, and 2) Aragorn’s voice was captivating. It was like listening to time itself. It was probably this quality that led Sir John to narrate and voice so many movies and characters. (I squealed with joy when I saw the first episodes of BBC’s Merlin and heard him narrate the opening and play one of the baddest dragons around!)
I know that my encounter with him does nothing to show what a talent this man was. But my introduction to him is something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. In fact, he made me realize that one can span creative mediums- from the stage, to television, to film, to voice acting, to drama, to comedy, to animation, to fantasy.
Sir John Hurt is a knight, a legacy, but most importantly, a damn good artist. You will be mourned, missed, but most importantly, remembered.  -Alicia Whavers
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I actually remember the first time I saw John Hurt on screen. On an empty ship, The USS Nostromo, he is the first to wake from hypersleep. Once landing on an unknown planet, he leads the first expedition out and is the first to succumb to the alien creature. I think the chest-burster scene in Alien is arguably one of the most memorable in horror history and it is one I have revisited many times over, including today. Throughout the rest of his career, he continued to crop up in movies that were very influential to me, and he was always a welcome addition to the cast.

In the Harry Potter series, as the wise wand maker Mr. Ollivander, he introduced the titular character to his incredible potential as a wizard. He brought his talents to V for Vendetta as the fascist head of the fictional Norsefire Party in Britain. Most recently, he was an aging vampire in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, an incredibly intimate portrait of a dying race clinging to its last moments with each other; and he also played a spiritual leader in the face of absolute oppression after a deadly climate experiment goes wrong in Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer. When he was present in a film, he brought another level of authenticity to whatever story was being told. He was an incredible actor and his talents will not go forgotten. -Glynis Neely

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Losing John Hurt means we are coming to terms with the loss of our very own “lost Doctor” – the War Doctor. When we met John Hurt as the Doctor, we met him with other incarnations of the Doctor – totally unheard of, as the Doctors try to stay out of their own time streams, because wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. John Hurt gave us Whovians a worn Doctor, a Doctor who renounced the title of “Doctor.” He was the one who was going to destroy Gallifrey, something with which the current incarnations of the Doctor have been coming to terms. Yet, he cared. He had concerns and he wasn’t entirely gruff. Somewhere between the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann, and the 9th doctor, Christopher Eccleston, we have John Hurt – the surprise the Whovians didn’t know we wanted. I think it’s so fitting that an actor such as John Hurt could give life to this unknown Doctor for the 50th anniversary of the show. Only an actor as great as Hurt could give this character, in his one episode, a full story. We raise our wands and our sonic screwdrivers to you, sir. -Allyssa Ellen

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Though John Hurt had an incredible career spanning over many decades and genres, his death can be summed up in one text message to me from my father.

“Mr. Ollivander died.”

Hurt was only in three of the 8 films, and his screen time only amounted to about a half hour in total, but he gave life to one of the most vital characters and sprinkled his magic and presence throughout the entire series.

While it was Hagrid that first hinted at Harry’s greatness, it was Mr. Ollivander that first confirmed it. He was the one that told Harry and our generation, that we could achieve great things. Hurt was also entrusted to explain to Harry and the entire audience what magical wands were and how they operated.

What was most magical about his performance though was how he played Mr. Ollivander. In the books he is a peculiar fellow, who seems to speak about the dark arts with almost too much admiration. Though Harry does like him, he regards him with a sense of unease. John Hurt encapsulated all this and more. He made us love him, but we also understood there was something else there, brimming underneath the surface. I remember being 11, watching his performance for the first time and understanding that something wasn’t quite right with him.

Six films later, he did finally pop back up again when our hero needed him the most. Though much time had passed, Hurt brought the same intensity, the same wonder to a character he hadn’t played in nearly ten years. Time had passed, but John Hurt was still Mr. Ollivander, and I’m forever grateful for that. – Emily Miller

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