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William Hurt's Legacy

Marion Charatan

Posted on March 14, 2022 12:21

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The Academy-Award-winning actor (Kiss of the Spider Woman) William Hurt has passed away at the age of 71, a week shy of his 72nd birthday. He leaves a legacy of films that delved into diverse social issues.

One of the best films I've seen about the struggles the deaf face is Children of a Lesser God. The movie was released in 1986. It is the story of a teacher for the hearing impaired, John Leeds (Hurt), and a deaf janitor, Sarah, portrayed by Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, who work together and fall in love.  Sarah was a former student at a special needs academy but stayed on because she did not want to navigate the harsh world outside the school's walls.

There is a huge amount of conflict between the two characters -- caused by their differing views on deafness and the use of speech for communication. It was the first time I can recall watching a movie that addressed the issue of deafness specifically. Children of a Lesser God was based on Mark Medhoff's 1979 Broadway play. 

William Hurt was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for Children but Marlee Matlin won for Best Actress at the 59th Academy Awards. She was the first deaf actor to receive the coveted award and also the youngest, at 21. The doe-eyed slim thespian had undeniable chemistry with the tall actor with patrician looks. Matlin and Hurt had a well-publicized personal relationship for almost 2 years. They began dating when Hurt was 35 and Matlee 19. 

On the Red Carpet at The Critics' Choice Awards yesterday, Matlin, 56, was asked about her reaction to the death of the actor she was involved with so many years ago. The actress had publicly accused Hurt of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in her 2009 book I'll Scream Later. She responded in what the NY Post termed a 'subdued' way by saying, ‘We’ve lost a really great actor and working with him on set in Children of a Lesser God will always be something I remember very fondly."

She added she learned a lot about her craft from Hurt. Matlin admitted that when she went out with Hurt, she was addicted to cocaine and marijuana that "took over her brain." Hurt later apologized for his behavior and stated he recollected that both actors did hard work to heal.

A year after Children of a Lesser God, Hurt garnered an Oscar for The Kiss of the Spider Woman, for his brilliant portrayal of a gay prisoner in South America. 

Despite his struggles that included a troubled marriage to Mary Beth Hurt, William Hurt was a mainstay in American film and TV. He played roles with restraint and quiet intelligence.  Other noteworthy performances were in The Big Chill, about a reunion of 60s kids,' and Body Heat, about a murdering lawyer under the spell of the incomparable Kathleen Turner. The actor was called "one of the Eighties cinema’s most versatile leading men" in Rolling Stone.

The official cause of death was listed by his son as 'natural causes.' Hurt had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018 that spread.

Marion Charatan

Posted on March 14, 2022 12:21

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Source: Al Jazeera

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