William Hurt, star of Broadcast News, Body Heat, has died

William Hurt, whose laconic charisma and assured subtlety as an actor made him one of the leading men of the 1980s in films such as Broadcast News, Body Heat and The Big Chill, has died. He was 71 years old.

Hurt’s son, Will, said in a statement that Hurt died Sunday of natural causes. Hurt died peacefully, with family, his son said. The Hollywood Reporter said he died at his home in Portland, Oregon. Deadline first reported Hurt’s death. Hurt had previously been diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread to the bones in 2018.

Over the course of a long career, Hurt was nominated four times for an Academy Award, winning for Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1985. After his breakthrough in the 1980s, Altered States-scripted Paddy Chayefsky as a student psychopathologist schizophrenia and experiencing sensory deprivation, Hurt quickly became an ’80s mainstay.


Guillaume Blessé William Hurt in Broadcast News. (AP picture)

In Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 scorching neo noir Body Heat, Hurt starred alongside Kathleen Turner as a lawyer persuaded to commit murder. In 1983’s The Big Chill, again with Kasdan, Hurt played brooding Vietnam War veteran Nick Carlton, one of the college buddies who reunite for their friend’s funeral.

Hurt, whose father worked for the State Department, was born in Washington D.C. and traveled widely as a child while attending boarding school in Massachusetts. His parents divorced when he was young. When Hurt was 10, his mother married Henry Luce III, son of the founder of Time magazine. Hurt studied acting at Julliard and first appeared on the New York stage with the Circle Repertory Company. After The Big Chill, he returned to the stage to perform on Broadway in David Rabe’s Hurlyburly, for which he was nominated for a Tony.

Soon after came Kiss of the Spider Woman, which earned Hurt the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a gay prisoner in a repressive South American dictatorship.

“I’m very proud to be an actor,” Hurt said as he accepted the award.


William Hurt, Children of a Lesser God William Hurt played a speech teacher in Children of a Lesser God. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

In 1986’s Children of a Lesser God, it was his co-star, Marlee Matlin, who won the Oscar for her performance as a babysitter at a school for the deaf. Hurt played a speech teacher. For Hurt and Matlin, their romance was also off-screen — but it wasn’t Hurt’s first experience with his private life finding notoriety.

Hurt was first married to actress Mary Beth Hurt from 1971 to 1982. While married, he began a relationship with Sandra Jennings, whose pregnancy with their son precipitated Hurt’s divorce from Mary Beth Hurt. A high-profile court case ensued six years later in which Jennings claimed she had been Hurt’s common-law spouse under South Carolina law and was therefore entitled to a share of his earnings. A New York court ruled in Hurt’s favor, but the actor continued to have a strained relationship with the celebrity.

“Acting is a very intimate and private thing,” Hurt told The New York Times in 1983. “The art of acting requires as much solitude as the art of writing. Yeah, you bump into other people , but you have to learn a craft, a technique. It’s work. There’s this strange thing that my game is supposed to be this demand for attention from my person, as if I need so much love or of so much attention that I would give up my right to be a private person.

In her 2009 memoir, Matlin detailed the physical and emotional abuse during their relationship. At the time of publication, Hurt issued an apology, saying, “My recollection is that we both apologized and we both did a lot to heal our lives.”

During these years, Hurt also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and attended rehabilitation clinics. He also developed a reputation for not always being an easy collaborator. The New Yorker called him “notoriously temperamental.” In 1989 Hurt married Heidi Henderson, whom he met in rehab. They had two children together. Hurt also had a daughter with French actress and filmmaker Sandrine Bonnaire, whom he met while making Albert Camus’ 1992 direct-to-video adaptation The Plague.

Among Hurt’s greatest performances was James L. Brooks’ 1987 comedy Broadcast News as a sleek but light-hearted newscaster who symbolized the emerging fusion of entertainment and journalism.

Hurt’s Broadcast News co-star Albert Brooks was among many who responded to Hurt’s death on Sunday. “So sad to hear this news,” Brooks wrote on Twitter. “Working with him on ‘Broadcast News’ was amazing. He will be greatly missed.”

After his torrid ’80s run, Hurt fell increasingly out of favor with filmmakers in the ’90s, and some felt it was because of his reputation. Hurt, however, continued to defend his approach, telling the Los Angeles Times in 1994 that “I give more to solving the truth than to pandering to easy expectations and hopes”.

“If a director tells me to make the audience think or feel a certain thing, I’m instantly upset,” Hurt said. “I’m not here to make anyone think or feel anything specific. I accepted something the whole article says. Beyond that, it’s my only obligation to resolve the truth of the piece. I owe nothing to anyone, including the director.

Nonetheless, Hurt never slowed down, racking up credits in the 90s and 2000s – Woody Allen’s Alice, Wayne Wong’s Smoke, Nora Ephron’s Michael, Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre.

Hurt, always a smart screen presence, gradually transitioned into a character actor. He received his fourth Oscar nomination for his small but mighty role in David Cronenberg’s 2005 thriller A History of Violence.

Hurt continued to work steadily in the years leading up to his death: 10 episodes of Damages; a series of Marvel films, including Avengers: Endgame and Black Widow, as military officer Thaddeus Ross; 14 episodes on Amazon’s Goliath.

Often, Hurt has suggested that his legendary run in the ’80s was the outlier of what defined him as an actor.

“Success is isolating,” he told The Telegraph in 2004. “Of course the Oscar was isolating. In some ways it was the antithesis of what I was aiming for. didn’t want a big target on my chest saying, ‘He’s an Oscar winner, he’s the one to be.’ I wanted to be an actor, so I was very confused about that. Sometimes I’m still confused about this.

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