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Tributes Pour in for John Hurt

It was the news we didn’t want to have to publish: John Hurt passed away at his home in Cromer, Norfolk, on Wednesday 25th January 2017. We were all shocked and, of course, saddened to know that our War Doctor was no longer with us.
But this week, we’ve been exploring the smallest taste of his extensive credits: from Watership Down to Whistle and I’ll Come to You; Big Finish to Alien. And that’s what we’ve got to celebrate – a fantastic life, and a lot of exceptional work.
While this remains a tragic time, it’s heart-warming to hear the outpouring of emotion, to know what everyone really thought of the great man. Here are just a small selection of tributes, as his friends remember Sir John Hurt.

Matt Smith

The Eleventh Doctor worked with John notably on The Day of the Doctor, the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, but also on The Name of the Doctor. Matt said:

“He was amazing and one of the great actors that we’ve produced over in England. Devastating news; really so sad. He was a wonderful man and a brilliant, brilliant actor.”

Big Finish

Since Big Finish acquired the rights to feature any characters up to and including The Time of the Doctor, a lot of opportunities have opened up. Perhaps most excitingly, John Hurt returned as the War Doctor. The first set of stories – Only the Monstrous – was out in December 2015, with following releases in February 2016 (Infernal Devices), October 2016 (Agents of Chaos), and the final one, Casualties of War, expected later this month. Hurt also fronts the upcoming adaptation of The Invisible Man.

Producer, David Richardson said:

“It’s a bitter blow to the whole country to lose Sir John Hurt. He was extraordinary – an actor whose work I have admired for as long as I’ve been watching television and films. We were so lucky to have him as a nation, and we were so lucky to have him at Big Finish. He was lovely to work with – so down to earth, so funny… he had time for everyone in the studio. And as the War Doctor and as our Invisible Man, as with every other role he has ever played in a long and unforgettable career, he was magnificent. What an honour to have worked with him. What an honour.”

Co-Executive Producer, Nick Briggs added:

“I certainly echo everything David has said in the previous paragraph. John was a lovely, funny, warm, talented man. It seemed to me that he always looked to enjoy himself, to see the positive and practical and not to look for problems. The warmth and trust we felt from him was entirely mutual and felt like such a privilege. It is a measure of the profound effect he’s had on my life that, although I knew he was very ill and not expected to recover, I am deeply upset at the news of his passing. All of us who met, knew, worked with him or just loved his work are so lucky to have had him in our lives. He had about him the air of a simple, generous greatness the like of which I had never experienced before and strongly suspect I will never experience again.”

Harry Potter Fans

John played wand-maker, Ollivander, who gave the young titular wizard his wand. While creator, J.K. Rowling praised Hurt on Twitter, the Instagram account of Pottermore (the official digital home for fans) encouraged those visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida to hold up their wands to Ollivander’s shop on Diagon Alley.

Anna Shaffer, who you might recognise from Class, played Romilda Vane in Harry Potter called John “one of the greatest.”

Dame Esther Rantzen

Esther Rantzen, the founder of Childline, approached John about the charity, and he immediately agreed to help. She said:

“He understood it was a unique way for children to seek help. There was something in his own past which made him connect with vulnerable children; I believe it happened when he was in school. From then on, he never turned us down: he spoke at events for us, telling stories of some of the children we had helped, and took part in carol services for us. Because he was such a great artist, I remember writing for him and he gave it so much more strength because of the way he told it. He will be a great loss to the children in this country.”

Natalie Portman & Pablo Larrain

The Star Wars actress worked alongside Hurt on V For Vendetta, as well as the upcoming film, Jackie. The movie focuses on Jackie Kennedy coping after the assassination of her husband; John plays a priest who helps the lead discover new reasons for living.

Photo by Bruno Calvo

Portman paid this lovely tribute:

“John was such an incredible human being, very, very kind, very easy to work with. We were shooting in really cold weather, doing difficult, very long takes, where he had a lot of dialogue. He was doing an Irish accent. He was just so good-natured and funny. The things he would come up with on his own between takes, Pablo [Larrain, director] would say, ‘That’s better than what we have, just say that.’

“We didn’t rehearse, so really all that energy from him was apparent when we were filming. Pablo gave direction sometimes that was almost counter-intuitive. He would ask John to be bored and act like he didn’t want to be there. John said, ‘No one’s ever asked me to do this thing before that goes against everything I assume about this character. But this is interesting.’ And then when we did it, he’d say, ‘Oh, I understand where this is going, why he’s asking for these things.’ Pablo would say, ‘Say, you want to get a drink right now.’ And John would say, ‘I don’t know that a priest with Jackie would necessarily say that in life.’ But it was not about being truthful to history necessarily, but creating a dramatically interesting scene.

“It was nice to see someone who was such a legend and who had so much experience, who had every right to have an attitude about that sort of thing, but he was just interested in learning and trying something new and experimenting. It showed a lot of openness.

“It was really devastating to lose him as both an actor and a human being. When you look at all the films he’s made, it’s crazy, but hopefully at the moment, people will be revisiting 1984 and V for Vendetta, among his incredible body of work.”

Pablo went on to say:

“If you look at most of the characters John played in films, many of them aren’t the lead role. Most of his movies, he would usually get the toughest roles, the ones that needed a very elevated level to work. He was usually doing the hard ones, but he was so unbelievably good and talented, he would make them look easy.  He was the kind of actor who could make everything look simple. And that simplicity is the most sophisticated thing an actor can do. I asked him once how he how felt about theatre and cinema, and he said theatre was his home and cinema was his backyard.”

The Metro

One of my favourite tributes was by the DWC’s very own James Baldock for the Metro, where he writes:

“It’s also worth noting that Hurt took the role absolutely seriously – insisting to cast and crew on his last day that ‘This really meant something to me, to be the Doctor’ (Moffat’s paraphrasing). ‘He loves the fact that he’s Doctor Who,’ Moffat adds. ‘Only having to stay in Cardiff for three weeks, he gets to be Doctor Who.’

“And personally, I think that’s what nails it. When an actor with Hurt’s stature and gravitas lends not only support but outright enthusiasm to a project like this, we feel vindicated. We feel that our obsession with Doctor Who actually means something in the grand scheme of things. This is no longer a silly, inconsequential sci-fi show: it’s something far greater… The industry has lost one of its finest, most endearing and versatile actors today – a genuine national treasure, so many things to so many people – but to millions of Who fans, he will always be remembered as the War Doctor.”

On Twitter

Of course, Twitter allowed a lot of celebrities – some Doctor Who stars – to show how respected Sir John is.

“But for now, for this moment… I am the Doctor again.”

RIP Sir John Hurt. Forever the Doctor.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Tributes Pour in for John Hurt

by Philip Bates time to read: 6 min
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