John Hurt: “I can’t say I worry about mortality”

The Bafta-winning actor, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June, says he isn't afraid of death after a life lived to the full


British actor John Hurt says he doesn’t fear death, despite being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June.


In a wide-ranging interview, the 75-year-old Bafta-winning actor told Radio Times that his treatment was going well, but added that he mourned modern society’s ‘obsession’ with the dangers of alcohol.

“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,” Hurt said. “We’re all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly. But my treatment is going terrifically well, so I’m optimistic.”

Hurt was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in 1981 for The Elephant Man, and has since gone on to win four Baftas, as well as acquire a new legion of admirers with his roles in Doctor Who and the Harry Potter films. In July he was honoured with a knighthood for services to drama.

His latest role sees him play his old drinking companion Jeffrey Bernard for BBC Radio 4, but Hurt claimed that modern society is very different to the era he knew the famously fast-living journalist and columnist.

“Society is much more homogenised, and we’re all supposed to conform,” Hurt said. “People are censorious but the pendulum will swing back, as it always does. There were difficulties in those days obviously, but life was more fun.

“We’ve become obsessed with the dangers of alcohol – you get newspaper articles that are entirely over the top. There’s political correctness as well. I wonder what instigated that. Where does it come from, and who says what is or is not politically correct? And as for the way you have to treat women these days…”

He admitted that “at times I drank too much,” but added that he, Bernard and Peter O’Toole (who played Bernard in the original 1989 stage production Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell) were part of a culture that encouraged “louche, creative people”.

“Our present-day, moralistic thinkers assume everyone was rolling around drunk, but that wasn’t the case,” Hurt said.

“I had endless conversations with Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Jeff and others. People go out today with the intention of getting smashed. We never had that intention, although it might happen. We hated binge drinkers. They were boring and if you slipped into it, you’d be told to pull yourself together. We wanted to seek, to find, to be interested, heighten awareness, talk.”


Read the full interview in this week’s Radio Times, in shops and on the Apple Newsstand from Tuesday 11 August