I watched John Hurt many times before I really recognised him as a specific actor and realized how many roles I had admired were played by him. I’m a bit face blind while my partner is voice blind so I kept recognising the voice in some of my favorite movies before I connected the voice it with the actual actor. (I can spot someone by their voice instantly, while my partner knows every actor by a glance of their face.)

Not knowing him personally I can only talk about him from my experience of him as the characters he played.

He will ever be known as the actor who always got to play the big death scene.


Having been a big Roman history fan, I looked forward to a series taking an in-depth look at my favourite two emperors when I heard about I Claudius. I thought the two best and worst emperors were back to back, Caligula and Claudius, at the peak of the most interesting/entertaining times in Roman history.

I was impressed by Malcom McDowell’s portrayal of Caligula in his movie, but I thought John hurt’s Caligula was the most realistic portrayal of that abused, damaged, and finally simply mad emperor.


My other favourite role was when he appeared for a brief but critical time in a Sigourney Weaver movie, Alien. I think it is too late to worry about spoilers even though some people will probably be introduced to the movie series as a result of this actor’s passing, so I won’t mince words.

John Hurt’s mild-mannered, almost apologetic character was also the unwitting mother/father of the monster which in 24 hours from birth destroyed an armed spaceship crew and put a real scare into millions of moviegoers.

In my opinion, his final supper scene is equalled only by the final sequence with Ripley finally escaping in the escape shuttle for two of the scariest and most surprising/shocking screen moments in the history of horror films.

Dr Who

And who can think about John Hurt without recognising that he was the hidden/missing Dr Who, the one who didn’t call himself Dr because he was a warrior and eventually thought he was not only the cause of genocide of one Alien species but also of his own, The Time Lords.

Watching the episode I kept reminding myself of the demands on an actor my age dealing with two much older versions of himself, yet looking much older than them and trying to act more mature.

A complex role which can only happen in Dr Who.


I liked the fact that both of the great actors from I Claudius ended up in Dr Who episodes, John Hurt as a missing Doctor himself, and, in another episode, Derek Jacobi as the series' greatest frenemy (possibly an American-only slang term for friend/enemy), The Master/Mistress. Jacobi, of course, was the lead in I Claudius.



In Orwell’s classic, at least the version I watch every couple years, Sir John’s character went the gamut of emotion from depressed to depressing everyone else, to really, really depressed, while being emotionally played with without any pity by Richard Burton. Still, he demonstrated an incomparable strength, enduring grinding poverty of spirit.

“War is peace. Slavery is freedom. Ignorance is strength.”

Comic book actor

And, if Roman mad man, Science Fiction superhero Time Lord, the downtrodden hero struggling with the world of newspeak, and horror movie red shirt wasn’t enough of a career he also got to play alongside one of the great pulp magazine/comic book adventure heroes Indiana Jones.

John Hurt, “We are all racing towards death. No matter how many great, intellectual conclusions we draw during our lives, we know they're all only man-made, like God. I begin to wonder where it all leads. What can you do, except do what you can do as best you know how."

Farewell John Hurt, fans of great acting and even greater death scenes will miss you.