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Norfolk pays tribute to veteran actor Sir John Hurt who has died aged 77

PUBLISHED: 09:27 28 January 2017 | UPDATED: 17:28 28 January 2017

John Hurt at Cinema City in Norwich for a screening of The Elephant Man.
Photo: Bill Smith

John Hurt at Cinema City in Norwich for a screening of The Elephant Man. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2013

The veteran actor Sir John Hurt, who lived in Norfolk, has died at 77 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

The Oscar-nominated star was well known for roles including Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, the title role in The Elephant Man and wand merchant Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films.

John Hurt at Cinema City in Norwich for a screening of The Elephant Man.
Photo: Bill Smith John Hurt at Cinema City in Norwich for a screening of The Elephant Man. Photo: Bill Smith

His agent, Charles McDonald, confirmed his death on Saturday.

Sir John, who lived in North Norfolk, was a keen supporter and regular visitor of Sheringham Little Theatre, chancellor of the Norwich University of the Arts and Patron of Cinema City, who chose to name their new film and heritage centre after him.

Debbie Thompson, Sheringham Little Theatre director, said: “I’m incredibly sad. Not only was he one of the nation’s best actors, he was an inspiration to young people.

“I have been lucky enough to get to know him in his later life and he was such a kind and generous man. He supported the arts and was such a strong role model for everyone.

Tony Britten on set with John Hurt during the filming of ChickLit Tony Britten on set with John Hurt during the filming of ChickLit

“He was unassuming, down to earth, approachable and a really nice guy. If you didn’t know who Sir John was and you were sat next to him you would have thought he was normal man from north Norfolk not a Hollywood god.”

She said the acting legend approached the coastal theatre when he first moved to Norfolk around 2009.

As well as being a regular theatre-goer in Sheringham, he opened the venue’s refurbished cafe and launched the theatre’s digital projector which is used to show films.

He was the voice of the magic mirror in the theatre’s 2013 Snow White pantomime, where he also worked with other cast members.

Sir John was also a strong supporter of Sheringham Little Theatre professional summer rep season - one of the last remaining in the country - and always attended the first night.

“He used to give pearls of wisdom to the cast afterwards,” Mrs Thompson added.

The theatre director said she believed his acting legacy would be remembered through his films.

Sir John’s wife Lady Hurt is on the board of trustees for the theatre and is a supporter of young people in the arts, as her husband was.

Mrs Thompson said the little theatre would pay tribute to Sir John by showing a season of his films.

A tribute on Twitter from Cinema City said: “Woken up to incredibly sad news that our friend and patron Sir John Hurt has passed away, a truly great man, he will be missed by us all.”

The Cinema City education team also said on Twitter: “Devastated to hear the news of our dear friend & patron passing away. Our condolences to his loved ones.”

A Cinema City spokesman said: “We are incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of our friend Sir John who was also the patron of Cinema City Education. Sir John was a legend of British cinema and his roles were diverse and many. We feel honoured to have known and worked with him, the John Hurt Centre will continues Sir John’s legacy by making film and cinema in it’s physical and theoretical forms an art form to be enjoyed by all.”

Prof John Last, vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts, said: “The University is so sad to learn of the death of our chancellor, Sir John Hurt, CBE. Sir John was not only an award-winning actor of international stature, he was also an inspiring champion of the arts and of Norwich University of the Arts.”

The British actor was nominated for two Academy Awards, for The Elephant Man and Midnight Express, and won four Bafta Awards, including a lifetime achievement recognition for his outstanding contribution to British cinema in 2012.

At the time of his diagnosis in June 2015 he said: “I have always been open about the way in which I conduct my life and in that spirit I would like to make a statement.

“I have recently been diagnosed with early stage pancreatic cancer. I am undergoing treatment and am more than optimistic about a satisfactory outcome, as indeed is the medical team.

“I am continuing to focus on my professional commitments and will shortly be recording Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (one of life’s small ironies!) for BBC Radio 4.”

He later told the Radio Times: “I can’t say I worry about mortality, but it’s impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it.

“We’re all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly. But my treatment is going terrifically well, so I’m optimistic.”

Sir John enjoyed a big hit with sci-fi horror Alien in 1979 and his character’s final scene has been frequently named as one of the most memorable in cinematic history.

He recently found new fans when he starred as a “forgotten” incarnation of the Doctor, known as the War Doctor, in Doctor Who.

He was knighted by the Queen for services to drama at an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle in 2015.

Earlier this year Sir John pulled out of a production of John Osborne’s play The Entertainer on medical advice, as he recovered from an intestinal complaint.

He had been due to play Billy Rice in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company production, directed by Rob Ashford.

However he continued to work at a prodigious rate, starring in Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie, thriller Damascus Cover and the upcoming biopic of boxer Lenny McLean, My Name Is Lenny.

He was also filming Darkest Hour, in which he starred as Neville Chamberlain opposite Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill.

The film focuses on Churchill’s charge against Adolf Hitler’s army in the early days of the Second World War and is currently scheduled to be released on December 29 2017.

Sir John, who played Caligula in the celebrated BBC drama I, Claudius, also racked up film hits in V for Vendetta, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Hercules.

Other celebrated roles included his performance as Stephen Ward - a key figure in the Profumo affair - in Scandal and a reprisal of his role as Crisp for An Englishman In New York in 2009, 34 years after his original portrayal of the flamboyant figure.

Sir John’s distinctive voice has been used several times as narrator, and accompanied a chilling Aids awareness advertising campaign in the 1980s.

Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Sir John went to art college before he studied at Rada (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and picked up TV and film roles until he had his major breakthrough, appearing in A Man For All Seasons as Richard Rich.

Sir John achieved further prominence in the film 10 Rillington Place as Timothy Evans who was wrongly executed for the crimes of serial killer John Christie, played by Richard Attenborough.

Did you know or meet Sir John and want to pay tribute? Email newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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