William Hurt, a four-time Oscar nominee and winner of Best Actor for the 1985 drama Kiss of the Spider Woman, died on Feb. 13 following a long fight with prostate cancer. He was 71.
“It is with great sadness that the Hurt family mourns the passing of William Hurt, beloved father and Oscar winning actor, on March 13, 2022, one week before his 72nd birthday,” his son, Will, said in a statement. “He died peacefully, among family, of natural causes. The family requests privacy at this time.”
Hurt initially gained notice for his first film role, playing the lead in the 1980 sci-fi drama Altered States, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Ken Russell. The following year Hurt played the lead in screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s directorial debut, the acclaimed neo-noir Body Heat, where he co-starred with a then-unknown Kathleen Turner. Hurt worked with Kasdan again for the 1983 comedy-drama The Big Chill, which became a significant hit and launched much of its lauded ensemble to stardom.
Hurt won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in 1985’s Best-Picture-nominated Kiss of the Spider Woman, in which he played a gay man incarcerated in Brazil and sharing a cell with a revolutionary (played by Raul Julia). Hurt followed up his win with 1986’s Children of a Lesser God and 1987’s Broadcast News, both of which were also Best Picture nominees and garnered Hurt additional Best Actor nominations.
Hurt was born in Washington, D.C., on March 20, 1950, where his father worked for the State Department and his mother worked for Time Inc. Hurt initially studied theology at Tufts University, but quickly followed his passion for acting to the Juilliard School, where he studied from 1972-1976. Hurt initially found success as a stage actor in the late-1970s, winning an Obie Award for his role in the Circle Repertory Company’s production of My Life. He continued to act on stage throughout his career.
Although Hurt became less of a box office draw after the 1980s, he spent the past three decades working regularly in film and television, and he settled into becoming an acclaimed and in-demand character actor. This new status was confirmed when Hurt received his fourth Oscar nomination, and his first in the Best Supporting Actor category, for the 2005 psychological thriller A History of Violence, directed by David Cronenberg. Hurt didn’t appear until more than an hour into the film, and he had less than 10 minutes of total screen time, but his powerful portrayal of Philly mob boss Richie Cusack lingered long after the film ended.
In recent years, William Hurt became well-known to a new generation of young filmgoers through his portrayal of General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, a recurring character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who appeared in five movies, beginning with 2008’s The Incredible Hulk and most recently with 2021’s Black Widow.
Other notable films Hurt acted in include The Accidental Tourist, Until the End of the World, Michael, Dark City, Lost in Space, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Village, Syriana, The Good Shepherd, Into the Wild, Robin Hood, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, and Race. Some of Hurt’s acclaimed television roles include 2000’s miniseries adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, and the popular FX drama Damages, for which he earned his first Emmy nomination in 2009.
Hurt is survived by his four children, two brothers, and two grandchildren.