William Hurt, Oscar-winning ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ actor, dies at 71

Actor William Hurt at the 2016 Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Beverly Hills.
(Rich Fury / Invision / Associated Press)

William Hurt, the Oscar-winning actor known for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Broadcast News” and “Children of a Lesser God,” died Sunday of natural causes. He was 71.

Hurt died a week before his 72nd birthday. His son, who shares the actor’s name, confirmed Hurt’s death in a statement to the Associated Press.

“We are deeply saddened to report that actor William Hurt, who played Prof. Hobby in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), has passed at 71,” Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment, said in a statement.

“As an actor, William worked from inside, projecting the humanity of his characters outward. Thank you, William, for consistently showing us through your roles where dreams are born: the heart.”


Other Hollywood luminaries paid tribute to Hurt, including his “Broadcast News” co-star Albert Brooks. “So sad to hear this news,” Brooks wrote on Twitter. “Working with him on ‘Broadcast News’ was amazing. He will be greatly missed.”

In the early 1980s, Hurt secured breakout roles in two Lawrence Kasdan films: the steamy crime drama “Body Heat,” in which he plays a small-town lawyer opposite Kathleen Turner; and comedy-drama “The Big Chill,” where he portrayed a Vietnam War veteran meeting up with college buddies for their friend’s funeral.

Soon after, Hurt landed his first Oscar nomination and win for his turn as Luis Molina in 1985’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” From 1986 to 1988, Hurt scored three consecutive Academy Award nominations: for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Broadcast News” and “Children of a Lesser God.”

He received his fourth and final Oscar nod for his supporting performance as crime boss Richie Cusack in 2005’s “A History of Violence.”

“If a director tells me to make the audience think or feel a certain thing, I am instantaneously in revolt,” he told The Times in 1994. “I’m not there to make anyone else think or feel anything specific. I have agreed to something the whole piece says. Beyond that it is my only obligation to solve the truth of the piece. I don’t owe anybody anything — including the director.”

Hurt’s reputation took a hit years later when he was accused by his costar and ex-girlfriend Marlee Matlin of physical, sexual and emotional abuse while working on “Children of a Lesser God.”

In a 2009 interview with “Access Hollywood,” Matlin — who won an Oscar for her role in the film — said she was “always afraid” of Hurt during their two-year relationship, which she detailed in her memoir “I’ll Scream Later.”

“I always had fresh bruises everyday,” she told the outlet. “And if I had a split lip, or if… I mean, there were a lot of things that happened that were not pleasant.”

“My own recollection is that we both apologized and both did a great deal to heal our lives,” Hurt said in a statement at the time. “Of course, I did and do apologize for any pain I caused. And I know we both have grown. I wish Marlee and her family nothing but good.”

Hurt was married to Mary Beth Hurt from 1971 to 1982. While he was married, he began a relationship with Sandra Jennings, whose pregnancy with their son precipitated Hurt’s divorce from Mary Beth Hurt.

Before making a name for himself on the big screen, Hurt studied at New York City’s Juilliard performing arts school and launched his career as a stage actor and member of New York’s Circle Repertory Company.

In 1984, he returned to his theatrical roots to star in David Rabe’s Broadway production of “Hurlyburly.” Hurt was nominated for a Tony Award the following year for his portrayal of a casting director in the play.

When it came to movies, Hurt told The Times in 1985 that he found it hard to watch himself on-screen.

“But it’s not me up there,” he added. “You don’t play yourself. I wouldn’t know enough to be able to conjecture or judge the difference... I think our purpose is to seek as great a contribution as we can, whatever that might be.”

Though his film career waned somewhat in the later years of his life, Hurt had a recurring role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Thaddeus Ross. He was in five films beginning with “The Incredible Hulk” and including “Avengers: Endgame”

Hurt made headlines as recently as 2014 by pulling out of the Gregg Allman biopic “Midnight Rider,” which suspended production after a train accident killed a camera assistant.

The project never opened in theaters, and director Randall Miller ended up pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

After being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in the 2010s, Hurt was vocal about the toll chemotherapy took on his physical and mental health and advocated for an experimental treatment without the traditional side effects of chemo.

“It’s a moment you only know when it happens to you,” Hurt said in a 2018 interview with CBS San Francisco.

“I didn’t want to hear the word chemo out of your mouth. I had fought tooth and nail for five years to change my life so that word didn’t happen to me. ... Here it was, and I was really upset.”

Deadline, which first reported on Hurt’s death, said he is survived by four children.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.