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John Hurt, who passed away last January aged 77 from pancreatic cancer, was a great actor, memorable character – and a wonderful friend of Ireland.

Like many bawdy but sensitive English souls, he ‘got’ Ireland and at one stage, in the ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ TV series, he even seemed to have found his Irish roots, somewhat to the surprise of his many friends !

He was also a great friend of my late father, the sculptor Edward Delaney RHA, and was the last visitor my Dad received at his nursing home in Connemara before he passed away in 2009.

Their friendship went way back to the late 1960s when Hurt came to Ireland to film the caper comedy, Sinful Davy, thus beginning a long and deep relationship with Ireland and its culture.

They had a mutual friend in the gaelicised aristocrat and Claddagh Records founder, Garech Browne, and his circle, with many visits to, and parties in Luggala, Browne’s stunning valley retreat in Wicklow – only recently put on the international property market for 4.7m euros.

Hurt was at home in this milieu of banter, poetry and hard living. It was wine, women and song – and many females (and males) were bewitched by the distinctive husky and seductive voice. His speciality was the jabberwocky from Alice of Wonderland, which he would regale at full length to a crowded but silenced room.

It was also a voice known to millions of cinema watchers, and one of the impressive achievements of Hurt was his extraordinarily prolific acting career, across theatre and film and including unforgettable appearances in Alien, The Elephant Man and The Field, where he gave full vent to his ‘mad Irish’ streak.

He had a singular work ethic and in the morning, after an all-night party in Luggala, or elsewhere, he would almost always be gone, back on set, or stage : sober, single minded and ready to excel again as a thorough professional and imaginative thespian.

Hurt would come and stay at my father’s house in Galway where he was lively and roisterous company. In later years, as a young adult, I went drinking with him in Soho, in the famous Coach and Horses and the French House and we ended up many hours later in Tramps nightclub, getting introduced to hedonistic celebrities and dissolute aristocrats!

Another time, I met him outside Trinity College, when I was coming from chairing a student debate. He insisted on joining us all in Renard’s nightclub with us, where he bought everyone drinks and entertained the students with saucy tales, but also – sotto voce -with romantic and even career advice !

‘I cant believe we’re sitting here listening to The Elephant Man’ said one, and another said he feared a re-enactment of ‘that scene’ from the Alien. It was a surreal and unpredictable encounter, but also a convivial and life-affirming one – and typical of the carefree Hurt, who did not stand on ceremony.

It is often said of people when they die, that they are ‘one of a kind’, but it was certainly true in John Hurt‘s case. He was a fantastic character, mimic and actor – and a heartfelt friend of Ireland. We will miss him : all of us – filmgoers and friends.

Pictured below : John Hurt at the launch of my first book, The Casting of Mr O’Shaughnessy (Bloomsbury) in 1995 in Waterstones, Dublin.

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