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Huge loss to acting: Northern Ireland tributes to Sir John Hurt

By Jonathan Bell

Tributes have been paid to Sir John Hurt following his death from pancreatic cancer.

Sir John (77) was well known for roles including Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, the title role in The Elephant Man and wand merchant Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films.

The actor was nominated for two Academy Awards, for The Elephant Man and Midnight Express, and won four Bafta Awards, including a lifetime achievement accolade in recognition of his outstanding contribution to British cinema in 2012.

He is also to star in the forthcoming film The Journey based on the friendship between Martin McGuinness and the late Ian Paisley.

More: Paisley and McGuinness: The Movie is not coming to cinema near you any time soon

Author and the film's screenwriter, Colin Bateman described him as a "gentleman".

"Sad to learn that John Hurt has passed away," he wrote on Facebook.

"He was such a gentleman on The Journey."

Coronation Street actor Charlie Lawson described his passing as a "huge loss to the profession". He said he first met the legend in the mid-80s in London's famour Kismet Club.

"Great guy RIP," he added.

Belfast actor Ian Beattie, who also worked alongside Sir John on The Journey added his tribute: "Working with John Hurt was one of the highlights of my career.

"He was an incredible actor and a lovely man. Safe journey."

Sir John's widow said it will be a "strange world" without the veteran actor following his death at the age of 77.

Anwen Hurt said that the Oscar-nominated star died at his home in Norfolk on Wednesday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

In a statement to the Press Association, she said: "It is with deep sadness that I have to confirm that my husband, John Vincent Hurt, died on Wednesday 25th January 2017 at home in Norfolk.

"John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit. He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him."

Author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling, tweeted of Sir John: "So very sad to hear that the immensely talented and deeply beloved John Hurt has died. My thoughts are with his family and friends."

Childline founder and president Dame Esther Rantzen hailed Sir John, who was a fundraiser for the children's charity, saying he had an "extraordinary career".

Dame Esther said she approached him after a London theatre performance, some 30 to 40 years after first meeting him when he was a young actor, and he "immediately agreed" to help the organisation.

She said: "He understood it was a unique way for children to seek help.

"There was something in his own past which made him connect with vulnerable children - I believe it happened when he was in school.

"From then on he never turned us down, he spoke at events for us, telling stories of some of the children we had helped, and took part in carol services for us.

"Because he was such a great artist, I remember writing for him and he gave it so much more strength because of the way he told it.

"He will be a great loss to the children in this country."

Sir John told the Press Association of his diagnosis in June 2015.

He said: ''I have always been open about the way in which I conduct my life and in that spirit I would like to make a statement.

''I have recently been diagnosed with early stage pancreatic cancer. I am undergoing treatment and am more than optimistic about a satisfactory outcome, as indeed is the medical team.

''I am continuing to focus on my professional commitments and will shortly be recording Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (one of life's small ironies!) for BBC Radio 4.''

He later told the Radio Times: "I can't say I worry about mortality, but it's impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it.

"We're all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly. But my treatment is going terrifically well, so I'm optimistic."

Sir John enjoyed a big hit with sci-fi horror Alien in 1979 and his character Kane's final scene, in which the xenomorph creature bursts from his chest, has been frequently named as one of the most memorable in cinematic history.

He recently found new fans when he starred as a "forgotten" incarnation of the Doctor, known as the War Doctor, in Doctor Who.

He was knighted by the Queen for services to drama at an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle in 2015.

Earlier this year Sir John pulled out of a production of John Osborne's play The Entertainer on medical advice, as he recovered from an intestinal complaint.

He had been due to play Billy Rice in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company production, directed by Rob Ashford.

However, he continued to work at a prodigious rate, starring in Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie, thriller Damascus Cover and the upcoming biopic of boxer Lenny McLean, My Name Is Lenny.

He was also filming Darkest Hour, in which he starred as Neville Chamberlain opposite Gary Oldman's Winston Churchill.

The film focuses on Churchill's charge against Adolf Hitler's army in the early days of the Second World War and is due to be released on December 29.

Sir John, who played Caligula in the celebrated BBC drama I, Claudius, also racked up film hits in V For Vendetta, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, John le Carre adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (again alongside Oldman) and Hercules.

Other celebrated roles included his performance as Stephen Ward - a key figure in the Profumo affair - in Scandal and a reprisal of his role as Crisp in An Englishman In New York in 2009, 34 years after his original portrayal of the flamboyant figure.

Sir John's distinctive voice has been used several times as narrator, and accompanied a chilling Aids awareness advertising campaign in the 1980s. He also voiced the roles of Hazel in Watership Down, and Aragorn in Ralph Bakshi's animated adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings.

Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Sir John went to art college before he studied at Rada (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and picked up TV and film roles until he had his major breakthrough, appearing in A Man For All Seasons as Richard Rich.

Sir John achieved further prominence in the film 10 Rillington Place as Timothy Evans, who was wrongly executed for the crimes of serial killer John Christie, played by Sir Richard Attenborough.

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