Back in June of 2011, I was in Atlanta for the weekend, and as usual then, I stayed at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta.
That Friday evening, I decided to relax by the outside tables so that I could smoke a cigar. I had the place pretty much to myself save for one nearby table that was occupied by two gentlemen who were having an animated meeting in what I thought were British accents. As the evening advanced, other people started to join them at their table. I happened to glance their way when someone started playing a guitar.
To my surprise, I suddenly recognized that the two gentlemen at the table were Sir John Hurt and fellow actor Ray Stevenson. I later learned that they were both in town filming the Billy Bob Thornton film “Jane Manfield’s Car.” Over the next few minutes, other actors joined them outside, including Shawnee Smith and John Patrick Amedori (a terrific guitar player by the way). Ray Stevenson and I started talking, and eventually, Sir John Hurt sat down across from me, and we spent the next three hours together. He told me his favorite role was “V for Vendetta” (also one of my favorite recent movies). When I remarked how much I liked his acting in that film, he laughed and said, “You thought I was Hitler, didn’t you?”
As he and I became more at ease (by then we had deep dived into our respective personal lives and histories as well as poured several drinks), I reminded him of the 1982 Film “Partners” he did with Ryan O’Neal, more or less asking him what he was thinking when he decided to make that silly film. Almost immediately, he grew serious and glared right at me: I had obviously “hit a nerve.”
We both laughed it off and kept talking.
I stayed with them until about 3 a.m., when Ray and I headed to our rooms. As we said our “goodbyes,” Ray extended an open invitation to join them again if I returned to Atlanta during the next few weeks.
I have never been star struck. Perhaps they appreciated just having a normal evening, reminiscing about our lives and the people we loved the most. I did observe that Ray had a very special relationship with John Hurt, almost protective. While all of us were slightly inebriated by night’s end, I noticed John Hurt’s excessive chain smoking and definite love for the drink. I also observed that he coughed a lot, and noticed other signs that perhaps his health was not good. So when I read the news over the weekend that he had died from pancreatic cancer, I was not surprised. In fact, he reminded me a lot of my own father: they were both the same age, and had lived with many vices that we now know greatly affect our health.
I shall never forget the great conversation and his openness to sit with me, a stranger and fellow traveler. And yes, in “V for Vendetta,” I did think he was Hitler. But that night in Atlanta, Georgia, he was just John from England. I shall never forget that evening.
May he rest in peace.