Monday 14 March 2022

Adieu William Hurt, Thespian and Thinker

William McChord Hurt (1950-2022). Photo Credit: Terry O’Neill.

It is sad to hear of the passing of the Hollywood film actor William Hurt.

I had an extensive correspondence with him that spanned aspects of history, American politics and geopolitics, and was grateful for his words of praise for some of my writings which he had come across when he was researching issues relating to a film script set during the Cold War.

His on-screen persona often reflected what he was in real life: an intelligent critical thinker.

Born into an upper middle-class family of the American Northeast, Hurt’s father was a diplomat who worked for the State Department which meant that the young Hurt lived in locations such as Mogadishu, Khartoum and Lahore. Living in Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan must have contributed to his disposition to inquisitiveness and to an interest in world affairs.

In later life he still had a thirst for knowledge and discovery.

In 2017, he told me that he had just taken a Sociology course at UCLA Extension which was titled "A critical analysis of mass media in modern culture". He did not mind as a 66-year-old sitting alongside 19–21-year-olds taking what he described to me as "a "ringside seat at the 'Coliseum' bedlam of our recent election and how it was manufactured in crucial part by the media".

He was referring to the 2016 American Presidential Election.

He cared a great deal about what he perceived to be the failings of the American political system including the party duopoly and electoral malpractice. He had views about the agenda of newspapers of record such as the New York Times and think tanks such as the Brookings Institute. He was also concerned about what he argued was the failure of the media to reference “psychology and art” as part of punditry.

Through him I discovered Eugene V. Debs, an American socialist and political activist who influenced Bernie Sanders, and I would like to think that I gave him some insight into the recent political history of Ukraine.

I think that he saw in my writing and the stances which I took, a vindication of certain aspects of his world view.

As far as his acting was concerned, I was familiar with his early films such as Gorky Park (1983), Body Heat (1981), and The Big Chill (1983) and as the 1980s progressed Children of a Lesser God (1986) and Broadcast News (1987).

He was nominated 3 times for Best Actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and in 1986 won the award -the coveted Oscar- for his performance in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1985).

My acquaintance with him made me look up his later work with which I was not at all familiar. I enjoyed his role in the TV series Humans in which he played “Dr. George Millican”.

I wasn't aware that his cancer diagnosis was publicly disclosed in 2018, but he appears to have continued working almost to the end.

He was always very courteous and would excuse some extended pauses in responding as he was frequently "on the road".

I am sad for his family that he is gone and so grateful that our paths crossed.

Rest in Peace great thespian.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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