Oscar-winning actor William Hurt dead at 71

Entertainment

William Hurt, whose laconic charisma and self-assured subtlety as an actor made him one of the 1980s foremost leading men in movies such as Broadcast News, Body Heat and The Big Chill, has died. He was 71.

Actor William Hurt is seen in Beverly Hills, Calif, in August 2016. Hurt, the Oscar-winning actor of Broadcast News, Body Heat and The Big Chill, has died. He was 71.(Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

William Hurt, whose laconic charisma and self-assured subtlety as an actor made him one of the 1980s foremost leading men in movies such as , and , has died. He was 71.

Hurt's son, Will, said in a statement that Hurt died Sunday of natural causes. Hurt died peacefully, among family, his son said. The Hollywood Reporter said he died at his home in Portland. Deadline first reported Hurt's death. Hurt was previously diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread to the bone in 2018.

In a long-running career, Hurt was nominated for an Academy Award three times, winning for 1985's . After his screen debut in 1980's Paddy Chayefsky-scripted as a psychopathologist studying schizophrenia and experimenting with sensory deprivation, Hurt quickly emerged as one of the foremost leading men in the 1980s.

In Lawrence Kasdan's 1981 steamy neo noir , Hurt starred alongside Kathleen Turner. In 1983's , again with Kasdan, Hurt played the Vietnam War veteran Nick Carlton, one of a group of college pals who gather for their friend's funeral.

Hurt, whose father worked for the U.S. State Department, traveled widely as a child while attending prep school in Massachusetts. Hurt studied acting at Julliard and first emerged on the New York stage with the Circle Repertory Company. After , he returned to the stage to star on Broadway in David Rabe's , for which he was nominated for a Tony.

Saddened to hear of the passing of actor William Hurt. He broke the mold in his Oscar-winning role in Kiss of the Spider Woman, broke smiles in Broadcast News, and broke our hearts in The Accidental Tourist. A great loss to the world. Rest among the stars now, good sir.

—@GeorgeTakei

Shortly after came , which won Hurt the best actor Oscar for his performance as a gay prisoner in a repressive South American dictatorship.

"I am very proud to be an actor," Hurt said, accepting the award.

'Notoriously temperamental'

In 1986's , it was his co-star, Marlee Matlin, who took the Oscar for her performance as a deaf custodian at a school for the deaf. Hurt played a speech teacher. For Hurt and Matlin, their romance was off-screen, as well — but it wasn't Hurt's first experience with his private life finding notoriety.

Hurt was first married to Mary Beth Hurt from 1971 to 1982. While he was married, he began a relationship with Sandra Jennings, whose pregnancy with their son precipitated Hurt's divorce from Mary Beth Hurt. A high-profile court case ensued six years later in which Jennings claimed she had been Hurt's common-law wife under South Carolina law and thus entitled to a share of his earnings. A New York court ruled in Hurt's favour, but the actor continued to have a strained relationship with fame.

Sad to hear about William Hurt. Such a legend.

—@elijahwood

"Acting is a very intimate and private thing," Hurt told The New York Times in 1983. "The art of acting requires as much solitude as the art of writing. Yeah, you bump up against other people, but you have to learn a craft, technique. It's work. There's this odd thing that my acting is assumed to be this clamour for attention to my person, as if I needed so much love or so much attention that I would give up my right to be a private person."

In her 2009 memoir, Matlin detailed physical abuse and drug abuse during their relationship. Hurt at the time issued an apology, saying: "My own recollection is that we both apologized and both did a great deal to heal our lives."

In those years, Hurt also struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, and attended rehabilitation clinics. He also developed a reputation for not always being an easy collaborator. The New Yorker called him "notoriously temperamental." In 1989, Hurt married to Heidi Henderson, who he met at rehab. They had two children together. Hurt also had a daughter with French actress and filmmaker Sandrine Bonnaire, whom he met while making the straight-to-video 1992 Albert Camus adaptation .

Hurt, left, and Heidi Henderson arrive at the Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles in January 2012.(Chris Pizzello/The Associated Press)

Among Hurt's greatest performances was James L. Brooks's 1987 comedy , as a slick but lightweight anchorman who symbolized the emerging fusion of entertainment and journalism.

Albert Brooks, his co-star in , was among those responding to Hurt's passing. "So sad to hear this news," wrote Brooks. "Working with him on was amazing. He will be greatly missed."

After his torrid '80s run, Hurt fell increasingly out of favour with filmmakers in the '90s, and some reasoned that it was because of his reputation. Hurt, however, continued to defend his approach, telling The Los Angeles Times in 1994 that "I give more by solving the truth than by pandering to expectations and facile hopes."

"If a director tells me to make the audience think or feel a certain thing, I am instantaneously in revolt," Hurt said. "I'm not there to make anyone else think or feel anything specific. I have agreed to something the whole piece says. Beyond that it is my only obligation to solve the truth of the piece. I don't owe anybody anything — including the director."

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