William Hurt
Birth Date:
March 20, 1950
Birth Place:
Washington, District of Columbia, USA
6' 2
Famous for:
Oscar win for 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' (1985)
The Juilliard School of Music and Drama, New York City, New York, USA
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Kiss of the Spider Woman


"I'm still not comfortable with all this. I'm not comfortable with walking the red carpet in a tuxedo and seeing all the women with their boobs pushed up and all the men dressed as penguins - particularly when the subject of your film is the nature of violence and humanity. But that's the nature of Cannes. That's the process that we are both dealing with today." William Hurt.

A leading man since the 1980s, William Hurt nabbed three consecutive Academy Award nominations: for Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1985, which he won, and for Children of a Lesser God in 1986 and Broadcast News in 1987. He later added another nomination for A History Of Violence (2005).

Besides those acclaimed performances, Hurt also delivered distinguished turns in The Big Chill (1983), I Love You to Death (1990), Lost in Space (1998) and Syriana (2005). His latest film is Robert De Niro's second directorial effort starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, The Good Shepherd, and his upcoming films include Noise, Mr. Brooks, Vantage Point, Into the Wild, and Downloading Nancy.

More personally, the 6' 2" tall actor has married twice, to stage and screen actress Mary Beth Hurt, and Heidi Henderson, daughter of legendary bandleader Skitch Henderson. The father of four was also romantically linked to such names as Glenn Close, Children of a Lesser God (1986) co-star Marlee Matlin (lived together with Hurt in 1986), Sandra Jennings (together 1981-1984; sued Hurt in the late 1980s claiming she was his common-law wife; Hurt won the case) and Sandrine Bonnaire (together since 1991).

"Sometimes people call me a success for all the reasons that make me think I'm a failure. Being famous is not something that would make me feel successful, unless one was striving for mediocrity. Being a father, being a friend, those are the things that make me feel successful." William Hurt.

Children of a Lesser God

Childhood and Family:

In Washington, District of Columbia, William Hurt was born on March 20, 1950. He has a younger brother named James Hurt, who was born in 1951. After his parents divorced in 1956, William’s mother, Claire McGill, who worked work at Time Inc., married Henry Luce III, the son of the founder of Time Magazine, in 1960. His mother later died of pancreatic cancer in 1972 at age 47, while his biological father, a former state department employee, died of liver cancer in 1996 at age 86.

William graduated from Middlesex School in 1968 where he was the Vice President of the Dramatics Club and played the lead in some of the school productions. He studied theology at the Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, but turned instead to acting and joined the Juilliard Drama School, New York, New York (1972-1975). On May 25, 2005, William was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts by Tufts University.

In 1971, William married critically acclaimed stage and screen actress Mary Beth Hurt (born on September 26, 1946), but they divorced in 1981. On March 5, 1989, William married his second wife, Heidi Henderson, daughter of legendary bandleader Skitch Henderson. They have two sons: Samuel Hurt (born on August 7, 1989) and William Hurt (born in 1991). William and Heidi divorced in 1992. William also has one son from his relationship with Sandra Jennings, Alexander Devon Hurt (born in January 1983), and one daughter with then-companion Sandrine Bonnaire (William and Bonnaire appeared together in the film The Plague (1992), Jeanne Hurt (born in February 1994). In the late 1980s, Jennings sued William claiming she was his common-law wife, but William won the case. William is also godfather of actress Meghan Glennon.

A quite fluent in French, William, an avid private pilot with tail dragger experience, maintains a home outside Paris.

A History Of Violence


"I think it is an interesting and important ritual, the putting on of a mask. There's something sacred about it. The lights go out and the subject is considered by all together, it's a special moment, it's a special time. I respect that event. It doesn't seem to me that people are very good at understanding anything, and we're certainly no good at controlling things. We're not talented as a race that way. But we are remarkably sensitive creatures! We're unbelievably well designed witnesses, that must be our beauty. And we also have another ability, which doesn't seem to hurt anyone when it's done well or correctly, which is to express that." William Hurt.

After a stint with regional theater in Oregon, William Hurt appeared on PBS series, "The Best of Families" for Children's Television Workshop in 1977. The head writer, Corinne Jacker, later suggested he read for the Circle Repertory Theater. He later joined the theater company, as well as the New York Shakespeare Festival in NYC. In 1980, he made his film debut in Ken Russell's sci-fi drama loosely based on the Paddy Chayefsky novel, Altered States (it was also the film debut of Drew Barrymore), playing the lead role of a Harvard scientist who experiments on himself with altered states of human consciousness. He followed it up with different star-making performances in Lawrence Kasdan's directorial debut, the neo-film noir Body Heat (1981), playing an inept and rather sleazy lawyer becomes entangled with Kathleen Turner's character, and in another Kasdan's work, the musical drama comedy The Big Chill (1983; with Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Kline), as a psychologically maimed Vietnam vet. He also starred as a Moscow militia's top investigator in Michael Apted's drama thriller based on the novel by Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park (1983).

1985 proved to be a big year for Hurt. His brilliant turn as Luis Molina, a prisoner for his homosexuality in Hector Babenco's 1985 American-Brazilian film Kiss of the Spider Woman, was awarded an Academy Award for Best Actor. The film, adapted from the Manuel Puig novel "El Beso de la Mujer Araña," was also nominated for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium at the prestigious ceremony.

"The mask is everything... I wish I could take huge physical risks in films. ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ is about as extensive as I have been allowed to do in movies. I wanted to do twice as much in ‘Spider Woman.’ I wanted him to start out almost as a harpy, like a Medusa, then become a true queen. I had a whole physical idea in my mind, but I wasn't allowed to do it as flagrantly as I would have liked. I think I could have pulled it off believably, but it's really hard to get people to accept that." William Hurt.

Following his victory, Hurt was nominated the Academy Awards for Best Actor, thanks to the role James Leeds, an energetic new speech teacher at a school for the deaf who falls for one of his pupils (played by Marlee Matlin), he played in Randa Haines' film version of Mark Medoff's Tony Award-winning play, Children of a Lesser God (1986). He later made it three in a row when he earned another Academy Awards’ Best Actor nomination for portraying a charming new TV reporter who becomes rival of Albert Brooks' character, in writer-director-producer James L. Brooks' satiric look at the inner workings of a major TV network, Broadcast News (1987; also with Holly Hunter).

After his three consecutive Academy Awards, Hurt reunited with Kasdan and Kathleen Turner in the adaptation of the Anne Tyler bestselling novel that won the 1985 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, The Accidental Tourist (1988), starring as a travel writer who seems to be sleep walking through life after the death of his son. The film also stars Geena Davis, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the quirky dog trainer drifted into a relationship with Hurt's character. He also reteamed with Children of a Lesser God’s director Randa Haines in his contemporary urban drama based on Ed Rosenbaum's book, The Doctor (1991), in which Hurt played the title role of a successful doctor who was diagnosed with a cancer throat and becomes a patient himself.

A leading man since the 1980s, Hurt also picked up some smaller, but effective roles. He played an witty smaller role as a clumsy drugged-out hitman in Kasdan's romantic crime comedy film loosely based on an attempted murder that happened in 1984, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, I Love You to Death (1990; starring Kevin Kline and Tracey Ullman), a supporting role as a treacherous college professor in Anthony Minghella's romantic comedy Mr. Wonderful (1993; starring Matt Dillon and Annabella Sciorra) and as a crooked cop in Heywood Gould's drama thriller Trial by Jury (1994; starring Joanne Whalley).

Meanwhile, he also played the leads, as the mysterious owner of a sight-giving tool in German-born film director Wim Wenders' ambitious and somewhat underrated sci-fi drama Until the End of the World (1991), a lonely middle-aged man who decides to adopt a son in Chris Menges' take on David Cook's novel, Second Best (1994), and as a Brooklyn disenchanted writer in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's indie comedy Smoke (1995).

1996 saw Hurt in estate owner Edward Rochester, an enigmatic man who is alternately terrifying and compelling in Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 great novel, Jane Eyre, and as a cynical tabloid reporter in Nora Ephron's fantasy movie starring John Travolta, Michael. Afterward, he teamed up with Robin Wright Penn, playing a district attorney falls in love with a star witness in Erin Dignam' drama thriller Loved (1997), with Rufus Sewell in Alex Proyas' sci-fi thriller Dark City (1998; Hurt played a police inspector) and with Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert and Jack Johnson, playing a family going into space to fight for a chance for humanity, in Stephen Hopkins' adaptation of the 1965-68 CBS television series, Lost In Space (1998). He also played an attorney and adviser to FDR whose wife (played by Madeleine Stowe) picks a lover in order to have a child in Lesli Linka Glatter's romantic drama The Proposition and as the stoic husband of a terminally-ill woman (played by Meryl Streep) in One True Thing.

Entering the new millennium, Hurt could be seen as a staunch Communist in Istvan Szabo's epic Sunshine, the doomed patriarch of House Atreides in the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries "Frank Herbert's Dune" and starred in the direct-to-cable Contaminated Man. He continued to play lead roles in films like Spielberg-Kubrick sci-fi fable A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), Roger Michell's drama thriller Changing Lanes (2002) and the Disney adaptation of the children's classic novel by Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting (2002). TV viewers could also catch him portraying real-life FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was accused of leaking secrets to the Soviet Union, in the above-average CBS miniseries directed by Lawrence Shiller, “Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story" (2003).

After becoming Bryce Dallas Howard’s father in writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's tense but unfulfilling thriller The Village (2004), Hurt had a supporting turn in a faithful Hallmark television adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (2004) and delivered the pivotal character Richie Cusack, Viggo Mortensen's brother who is a Philadelphia crime boss, in director David Cronenberg's masterful drama A History of Violence (2005). The latter film, based on the graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner, presented Hurt another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Also in 2005, Hurt co-starred with George Clooney and Matt Damon in the Academy Award-winning geopolitical thriller film written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, Syriana, which was loosely adapted from Robert Baer's memoir, “See No Evil.” Additionally, he co-starred with Gael García Bernal in British documentary-maker James Marsh’s low-budget American film The King, playing Bernal’s estranged father.

Hurt’s latest film, Robert De Niro's second directorial effort starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, The Good Shepherd, was released on December 22, 2006. Hurt is also set to star in writer-director Henry Bean's comedy Noise, Bruce A. Evans' drama thriller Mr. Brooks (as Kevin Costner's murder-and-mayhem-loving alter ego), Pete Travis' drama thriller Vantage Point (he will play the U.S. president; opposite Matthew Fox and Dennis Quaid), and Sean Penn's adventure drama based on the bestseller by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild (starring Emile Hirsch and Vince Vaughn). He will also reteam with Holly Hunter in Johan Renck's drama thriller Downloading Nancy and will appear in the new sci-fi series, "Masters of Science Fiction."

"All I know is that my best work has come out of being committed and happy." William Hurt.


  • Austin Film Critics Association: Best Supporting Actor, A History of Violence, 2006

  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Supporting Actor, A History of Violence, 2005

  • New York Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actor, A History of Violence, 2005

  • Newport International Film Festival: Best Actor, The Big Brass Ring, 1999

  • London Critics Circle Film: Actor of the Year, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1987

  • Academy Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1986

  • BAFTA: Best Actor, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1986

  • David di Donatello: Best Foreign Actor, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1986

  • Joseph Plateau: Best Actor, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1986

  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Actor, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985

  • National Board of Review: Best Actor, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985

  • Cannes Film Festival: Best Actor, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985

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