Oscar winner William Hurt has died, four years after letting us know that he’d been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. He was 71.
His stand-out performances were legion — “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Broadcast News,” “A History of Violence,” lots of quality TV, Marvel movies and indies, a real “actor’s actor.” The last thing I saw him in was “The King’s Daughter,” but when I heard the news of his passing, I thought of “Altered States” and “Jane Eyre,” the warm and wonderful “Accidental Tourist,” indie films like “The Yellow Handkerchief” and the way he seemed out of place in those Marvel movie authority figure/villain turns.
A sex symbol during his “Body Heat,” “Big Chill,” “Eyewitness” and “Children of a Lesser God” years, he evolved into a great character actor, seething menace in “A History of Violence,” inscrutable in “The Good Shepherd,” earthy and empathetic in “Into the Wild.”
I interviewed him a few times over the years — for “Michael,” “A History of Violence,” an indie film here and there. Studio publicists would pitch him, I’d remember how much like his “Broadcast News” and “Michael” characters he always came off in person, and start to beg off Then I’d say “Oh hell, it’s William Hurt — sure.”
Talking to him was a bit like chatting up the more charming and amusing but just as chaotic and verbally-disorganized Jeff Goldblum. Endless Henry James-length parenthetical digressions, a real stream of consciousness conversationalist, which can be maddening if you’re looking for pithy quotes for a newspaper profile or — you know — a straight answer.
When he found himself in a palimony suit some years back, TV viewers of the trial got a lot of that rambling, disconnected way of thinking and talking in live coverage. But his line readings on screen were just the opposite — considered, soulful, intense and every bit as distinct as Goldblum or even Christopher Walken.
His ability to touch the viewer in profound ways in films such as “Children of a Lesser God” and “Accidental Tourist” wasn’t just a product of his quirky, heartfelt and off-tempo way of delivering a line. Check out this finale, for instance, an “accidental” tourist travel-writer admits the time for mourning a lost child and the marriage it broke is over. And he does it with a gesture, and a look.
Hearing from old friends how much his work spoke to them is his best eulogy. A quintessentially soulful actor, even if as his character in “Broadcast News” suggested, it was all just the tricks of the trade.
Fascinating guy, big “process” actor and one of the greats of his generation. Rest in peace.