Given that 2016 was such a relentlessly terrible year for celebrity deaths, I'll wager I was not alone in hoping that 2017 would be somewhat easier to deal with in this regard. And given that we'd almost made it to the end of January relatively unscathed, there was cause to feel vindicated on this matter. And then came the awful news that Sir John Hurt, one of Britain's greatest actors, had passed away aged 77 after a battle with cancer.
Listing Hurt's accomplishments within the film industry would take a considerable amount of time - put simply, it's very hard to imagine British cinema without him. Even if you take all his most famous roles out of the equation - and that in itself is no enviable task - all the projects to which he contributed over the years, even in some small way, are voluminous and very often glowing. Just as Sir Ian McKellen has cause to be disgruntled at people only knowing him as Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, so Hurt would have been... well, hurt if all he was recognised for was his appearance as Mr Ollivander in the first, seventh and final Harry Potter films.
Thankfully, there is very little chance of that, because Hurt's CV is a cavalcade of memorable roles which touched multiple generations. In the 1960s he was the snivelling Richard Rich in A Man For All Seasons (a role I got to play some years ago). In the 1970s, he was the innocent, illiterate and heartbreaking Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place, the flamboyant Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, the psychotic Emperor Calligula in I, Claudius, the junkie prisoner Max in Midnight Express and Kane in Ridley Scott's terrifying Alien.
In the 1980s, following his second Oscar nod for The Elephant Man, Hurt began to diversify his roles and continued to enjoy success. He played Jesus Christ in History of the World (Part I), hung out with Rutger Hauer on The Osterman Weekend, held his own against Richard Burton in 1984 and created a memorable cinematic death scene in The Black Cauldron. His work ranged from the serious political drama of Scandal to the game self-parody of Spaceballs, and even as he settled into old age he continued to take risks, working with Lars von Trier on Dogville, Manderlay and Melancholia, revisiting British totalitarianism in V for Vendetta, turning in a memorable supporting role in 44 Inch Chest and justifying every second of his brief time as Control in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. He even found time to appear in Doctor Who as the War Doctor, as part of the show's 50th anniversary celebrations in 2013.
Asking me to pick just one Hurt role as a favourite as akin to torture, since his body of work contains some of my favourite films and roles. Alien had a huge impact on me as an 18-year-old and remains one of the ten best films I've seen, while his work in I, Claudius and The Storyteller remains some of the best TV that the BBC has ever showcased. I'm struggling to make a recommendation of how to mark his memory, but perhaps that in itself is a fitting tribute; you have a lot of options to choose from to honour one of the finest acting talents that this island has ever produced. With that in mind, I shall leave you with the BAFTA tribute to Hurt, and his speech when he accepted their Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema award in 2012. RIP.