William Hurt

Active - 1980 - 2022  |   Born - Mar 20, 1950 in Washington, District of Columbia, United States  |   Died - Mar 13, 2022   |   Genres - Drama, Thriller, Crime

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Biography by AllMovie

One of the top leading men of the '80s, William Hurt, born March 20th, 1950, is notable for his intensity and effective portrayals of complex characters. Although born in Washington, D.C., Hurt had already seen much of the world by the time he was grown, as his father worked for the State Department. His early years spent in the South Pacific near Guam, Hurt moved to Manhattan with his mother after his parents divorced when he was six years old. He spent the summers with his father, vacationing in a variety of international locales, including Sudan. At the age of ten, Hurt's life again changed dramatically when he became a stepson to Henry Luce III, the heir to the Time-Life empire. His mother's second marriage indirectly led to Hurt's initial involvement with the theater: sent away to a boarding school in Massachusetts, he found comfort in acting.

After going on to Tufts University to study theology for three years at his stepfather's urging, Hurt married aspiring actress Mary Beth Supinger and followed her to London to study drama. Upon their return to the U.S., Hurt studied drama at Juilliard. By this time, under the realization that his marriage was failing, Hurt divorced his wife, got a motorcycle, and headed cross country for the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, OR, where he made his professional debut in a production of Hamlet. He later joined New York's Circle Repertory Company, and went on to receive critical acclaim for his work on the New York stage.

Hurt made his feature film debut in Ken Russell's Altered States in 1980, but it was not until he appeared opposite Kathleen Turner in Body Heat (1981) that he became a star and sex symbol. Four years later, he won Best Actor Oscar and British Academy awards as well as a similar honor at Cannes for his sensitive portrayal of a gay prisoner in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985). He was again nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his two subsequent films, Children of a Lesser God (1986) and Broadcast News (1987). Further success followed in 1988 when he starred in The Accidental Tourist.

As bright as his star shone on stage and screen, by the end of the '80s, a darker side of Hurt was exposed when he was sued by his former live-in love and mother of his daughter Alex, ballet dancer Sandra Jennings, who claimed to be his common-law wife. Despite his personal problems, Hurt continued to stay relatively busy, beginning the new decade with a fine turn in Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World (1991). He subsequently appeared in such acclaimed films as Smoke (1995), Jane Eyre (1996), One True Thing (1998), and Dark City (1998). In 1998, Hurt appeared as the patriarch of one of televisions most beloved sci-fi families in the big-budgeted remake of Lost in Space, and as a gubernatorial candidate with a shadowy past in George Hickenlooper's political drama The Big Brass Ring (1999).

Still alternating between stage and screen into the new millennium, Hurt stuck mainly to the small screen in the next few years. After lending his voice to the animated portrayal of the life of Jesus Christ in The Miracle Maker, appearing in the mini-series Dune, and taking the title role of The Contaminated Man in 2000, Hurt returned to features with his role in director Steven Spielberg's long anticipated (post-mortem) collaboration with the late Stanley Kubrick, A.I. As the well-intending scientist who sets the story of an artificial boy capable of learning and love into motion, Hurt's character seemed to provide the antithesis of the regressive experiments his previous character had flirted with in Altered States.

Hurt played a supporting role in Changing Lanes (2002), an thought-provoking thriller following two very different New York City residents whose lives fatefully intersect following a car accident, and again in the political thriller Syriana, which would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2005. The actor was praised the same year for his work as a supporting character in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. In 2007, Hurt starred as the murderous alter ego of a businessman in Mr. Brooks, and co-starred with Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, and Dennis Quaid for the political thriller Vantage Point (2008). Hurt stars as an ex-con looking to start over for The Yellow Handkerchief (2008), and Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, Bruce Banner's nemesis, in The Incredible Hulk (2008).

In 2009, Hurt reunited with Vantage Point director Pete Travis for the historical thriller Endgame, for which he played the leading role of philosophy Professor Willie Esterhuyse, an essential member of a team dedicated to securing the release of Nelson Mandela. Director Julie Gavras' 2011 romantic comedy found Hurt starring alongside the legendary Isabella Rossallini. Hurt is slated to work in the The Host, a dystopian thriller adapted from a novel from author Stephanie Meyers, in 2013.

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  • His father was a U.S. State Department employee; the family lived for a time in Guam and Hurt would visit his father in places like Somalia and the Sudan.
  • Made his New York stage debut in the New York Shakespeare Festival's Henry V.
  • Won an Obie Award for Best Actor and a Theatre World Award for Best Debut Performance for his role in the 1977 production of My Life.
  • Made his big-screen acting debut in 1980 in the cult sci-fi drama Altered States.
  • Ex-girlfriend Sandra Jennings, the mother of his son Alexander Devon, tried unsuccessfully in the late '80s to have their relationship declared a common-law marriage so that she could sue for a share of the actor's assets.
  • Received the inaugural Spencer Tracy Award for outstanding screen performances and professional achievement from the UCLA Campus Events Commission in 1988.
  • Awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from his alma mater, Tufts University.