The recent passing of the legendary John Hurt certainly caught my eye, and I wanted to offer up a few humble words on the man, largely because he's made such an impact on the realm of Science Fiction even though it certainly wasn't his 'mainstay' of work.
Like most regular folks, John Hurt came into my life as the guy who really put the whole Alien franchise in dramatic motion. Ridley Scott's seminal film is arguably as much horror as it is SciFi, and perhaps that's most owed to Hurt's brief portrayal of the ill-fated Kane from the 1979 film. In fact, one could argue that Kane as a metaphor is precisely what that franchise is all about: "we came, we saw, and we found ourselves inferior so we died." Tragic though it may be and as defeatist as it may sound, Kane's demise is often what most of us feel is waiting for mankind when we venture into the stars.
As is often the case with many of the truly great actors of his or her generation, Hurt's resume is filled with performance after performance investigating mankind's flawed nature ... and perhaps even a few non-human ones. He voiced Aragorn in the animated The Lord of the Rings (1978), an adaptation fans are still angry was never fully realized. He played Jesus himself in Mel Brooks' wacky The History of the World: Part 1 (1981), yet another incomplete epic unless the elder storyteller decides to actually do a follow-up. And then there's 1984 (1984), Spaceball (1987), Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound (1990), Contact (1997), the Hellboy franchise, and V For Vendetta (2005).
(For those uninformed, yes, I'm pretty much mentioning only genre works as this is, principally, a genre website!)
Of course, there's more -- much more, indeed -- but methinks you get the point: Hurt's career was filled with the kind of happy, sad, enlightened, and tortured moments that make up this fool's game we call 'life.' 'Existence.' 'Reality.' He was a man who lived big onscreen perhaps to give back to those of us who couldn't do the same, and he leaves behind a legacy of work that I believe will continue to inspire long after his memorials end.
Naturally, I'd be a fool if I didn't give an appreciable nod to his take on Doctor Who, debatably one of the oldest, dearest, and most impactful creations for televised Science Fiction and beyond. In "The Day of the Doctor," "The Night of the Doctor," and "The Name of the Doctor," the actor gave special credence to even that fabled character's darkest times, and he showed us in his own impressionable way that light can never be forever snuffed out by the blackness, no matter how grave, no matter how dire, no matter how powerful it may seem. Unlike suffering Kane's end, how fitting it was that -- near the end of Hurt's life -- he was given the chance to underscore how a life can transcend the mere 'ticking of the clock' to be something vastly more important, vastly more interesting, and vastly more impactful that we ever imagined.
He's gone now -- God rest his soul -- and Hurt will indeed be missed; but we'll always have the visual memories he left his audiences to cheer him onward and upward.