This one hurts me. Sir John Hurt has passed away from cancer at the age of 77.
Hurt was a sort of recurring figure in my childhood, and as a result I was usually thrilled to see him pop up here and there. I'm not sure, but I think I first encountered him as the voice of Hazel in the 1978 film of one of my favorite novels, Richard Adams' Watership Down. I saw that movie on network TV when I was pretty young--probably around six. Around Easter one year, it aired (weirdly) over two nights. We recorded it on VHS and I watched that thing a million times. To this day, it's one of my favorite stories. So much so that, when I found out Hurt had died, I thought to myself: My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.
A couple of years after that, he was the voice of the Horned King in Disney's The Black Cauldron... I had to wait over a decade for that thing to finally come out on home video, and seeing it confirmed I had built it up a lot in my mind over the years. Definitely not a perfect movie, but it did introduce me to Lloyd Alexander, whose books are among my all-time favorites. Hell, I'm still reading them today--I just read the Westmark trilogy about three years ago.
I saw Alien in high school. And The Elephant Man. I'd come to love the sound of his voice so much--a voice that spoke the role of Aragorn in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 The Lord of the Rings, which I love despite, or even because of, it's flaws--that I even get nostalgic when it's late and I find Don Bluth's Thumbelina on cable, which also features his voice. And which is another fascinating failure to me.
I've loved Hurt in so many films of varying quality that hit my aesthetic. Midnight Express, Rob Roy, Contact, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Hellboy, V for Vendetta, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Melancholia, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer... as the War Doctor on Doctor Who. I always wished he had done the voice of Draco in Dragonheart.
But towering over them all for me was Hurt's appearances as the title character in Jim Henson's The Storyteller, one of my all time favorite Henson productions. His voice was so perfect, so dark and rough, yet so playful at the same time. When it first showed up as a special in 1988, I just remember being so captivated, and that submitted Hurt as the voice of dark, mysterious tales to me. He's one of the few voices I think I impersonate rather well. Archaia Press currently does series of The Storyteller comics, and I sometimes read them aloud in his voice.
You'll always be in my imagination, Sir John, because you worked your way in there at a very early age. And I thank you for that. Wherever you are, I hope you're sitting in the best by the fire. In my head, you always will be.