There was, perhaps, no actor as practiced in death as the late British legend John Hurt.
The 77-year-old actor, known for his world-weary face and the economy of his emotional expression, died Wednesday, though it wasn’t for the first time. Over the course of a six-decade career that included roles as a cowboy and an astronaut — and garnered Oscar nominations for playing a man with severe physical deformities in “The Elephant Man” and an imprisoned heroin addict “Midnight Express” — Hurt went through the motions of perishing more than 40 times. On screen, Hurt died by hanging, shooting, fire, explosion, drowning and falling off a cliff. Not once but twice, aliens climbed out of his stomach: in the 1979 “Alien” and again in the 1987 sci-fi parody “Spaceballs.”
“I have died in so many spectacular ways,” Hurt said in a prescient interview with New Zealand’s Stuff website last year, “and I remember shooting them all, too. I imagine all those deaths will flash in front of me when I’m on my death bed, faced with the real thing.”
This 2012 YouTube supercut catalogues 40 of his death scenes:
Hurt, who won a Golden Globe and four BAFTA awards, may be best known to young audiences as Mr. Ollivander, the purveyor of magic wands in the “Harry Potter” series. He was born in Derbyshire, England, in 1940 and began acting in his early 20s, working steadily and to great acclaim, most recently as a priest in “Jackie” alongside Natalie Portman. Hurt’s portrayal of former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in the historical drama “Darkest Hour” is scheduled to hit theaters in November.
A 2014 analysis of movie deaths by Kyle Hill for Nerdist found that Hurt died on screen at least 43 times, making him one of the most frequently killed actors ever. According to Hill, Hurt died in over 30 percent of his roles.
Perhaps Hurt’s most emotional death scene was in 1980s “The Elephant Man,” a gripping four-minute sequence set to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
Here’s hoping that the final breaths of a man who gave use so many moving ones on screen were marked by comfort and peace.