William McChord Hurt was born on March 20, 1950, in Washington, DC, the son of Alfred Hurt, a career diplomat, and Claire Isabel (McGill) Hurt, who worked at Time Inc. When Bill was 6 years old, his parents separated and his mother got married. Henry Luce III, the son of the founder of Time magazine.
Bill attended Tufts University and later studied acting at Juilliard. In the second half of the 1970s, he made a name for himself on New York stages, where he appeared in productions such as Lanford Wilson’s play “Fifth of July” at the Circle Rep in 1978. In 1981, Frank Rich, passing reviewing “Child Byron” at the Circle The Times rep singled it 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 pleasure to watch in the theater,” the post began. review by Mr. Rich. “What makes this talented actor so special – and, inevitably, a star – is his ability to create his own reality on stage. Although he can create a powerful character whenever he wants (as he did starring Kenneth Talley in the original production of “Fifth of July”), he’s ready to be mesmerizing without the help of a playwright.
While his playing drew praise, Mr. Hurt’s personal life was difficult. He had a relationship with his “Children of a Lesser God” co-star, 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 claiming, unsuccessfully, that they were in fact married. His marriages to Mary Beth Hurt and Heidi Henderson ended in divorce.
In addition to his son Alexander, who is from his relationship with Mrs. Jennings, Mr. Hurt is survived by two sons from his marriage to Mrs. Henderson, Samuel and William Jr.; a daughter from his relationship with Sandrine Bonnaire, Jeanne Bonnaire-Hurt; two brothers, James Hurt and Ken O’Sullivan; and two grandchildren.