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William Hurt, Oscar-Winning Leading Man of the 1980s, Dies at 71

In recent years he had worked more in television, including the FX series “Damages” and the British sci-fi drama “Humans.” He was also in the 2013 television movie “The Challenger Disaster,” which in a 2015 interview prompted The Guardian to ask him if he was interested in space travel.

“I’m interested in all horizons and what’s on the other side of them,” he said. “We know less about the ocean than we do about space. I like to swim, float and fly.”

William McChord Hurt was born on March 20, 1950, in Washington, the son of Alfred Hurt, a career diplomat, and Claire Isabel (McGill) Hurt, who worked at Time Inc. When Bill was 6, his parents separated, and his mother married Henry Luce III, the son of Time magazine’s founder.

Mr. Hurt attended Tufts University and went on to study acting at Juilliard. By the second half of the 1970s, he was drawing notice on New York stages, notably appearing in the Lanford Wilson play “Fifth of July” at Circle Rep in 1978. In 1981, Frank Rich, reviewing “Childe Byron” at Circle Rep for The Times, singled him out.

“Maybe William Hurt has now been discovered by Hollywood (‘Altered States,’ ‘Eyewitness’), but he hasn’t lost any of that crazy intensity that makes him a joy to watch in the theater,” Mr. Rich’s review began. “What makes this talented actor so special — and, inevitably, a star — is his ability to create his own reality onstage. While he can create a powerful character when he wants to (as he did with Kenneth Talley in the original production of “Fifth of July”), he’s prepared to be fascinating without any help from a playwright.”

If his acting drew raves, Mr. Hurt’s personal life was rocky. He had a relationship with his co-star in “Children of a Lesser God,” Marlee Matlin, which she later described as abusive. A long-term relationship with Sandra Jennings, a dancer, landed in court in 1989, with Ms. Jennings contending, unsuccessfully, that they were in effect married. His marriages to Mary Beth Hurt and Heidi Henderson ended in divorce.

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