Bill Hunter dies at 71; prolific Australian actor


Bill Hunter, the archetypal working-class Australian of a multitude of movies including the quirky trio “Muriel’s Wedding,” “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Strictly Ballroom” died of cancer May 21 in a Melbourne hospice, his manager said. He was 71.

The prolific star of Australian movie and television screens with a weather-worn face, a distinctively broad and gravelly accent and an authoritative no-nonsense style remained an actor in demand until the end.

Director Baz Luhrmann described Hunter in a statement as “the go-to iconic actor to synthesize quintessential Australian-ness.”


His break into the industry came as a stuntman when Hollywood made “On the Beach” in Melbourne in 1959 — a movie about survivors of a nuclear war that starred Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire.

“He watched Gregory Peck do 27 takes and thought: ‘A mug could do that,’ ” Hunter’s former wife, Rhoda Roberts, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney.

Hunter was born in Melbourne on Feb. 27, 1940, and raised in rural Victoria state. He was the son of a struggling country pub owner who eventually went broke. Hunter told Melbourne’s the Sunday Age newspaper in 1994 that he left school at 13 to become a cowboy, known in Australia as a drover, guiding cattle herds across Victoria.

He began building his career in the 1960s in Australian television dramas.

An early career highlight came when he played a newsreel cameraman in “Newsfront,” the Phillip Noyce-directed movie about the media and politics in Australia in the 1950s. Hunter won the Australian Film Institute’s best actor award for 1978 for the role, the first of three such awards, the Australian equivalent of an Oscar.

He also won acclaim for his roles as a doomed army major in Peter Weir’s 1981 World War I drama, “Gallipoli”; a meddling dance judge in Luhrmann’s 1992 romantic comedy, “Strictly Ballroom”; father of the bride in P.J. Hogan’s “Muriel’s Wedding”; and an open-minded mechanic in the company of drag queens in Stephan Elliott’s “Priscilla.”

Hunter also had minor roles in Luhrmann’s 2008 epic “Australia” and in the U.S.-Australian television miniseries co-production “The Pacific” released last year.


He found his most youthful audience as the voice of the dentist who captured the young clownfish star of the hit 2003 animated feature “Finding Nemo.”