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Actor William Hurt has died of prostate cancer at age 71

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

William Hurt, the star of such popular 1980s films as "Children Of A Lesser God" and "Broadcast News," has died of complications from prostate cancer. He was 71. Hurt seemed to be a reluctant movie star, but as critic Bob Mondello remembers, he was one who shined brightly.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: When William Hurt walked out on that boardwalk in "Body Heat" and spotted Kathleen Turner shimmering in the moonlight, all he needed to be was charming.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BODY HEAT")

WILLIAM HURT: (As Ned Racine) You can stand there with me if you want, but you'll have to agree not to talk about the heat.

MONDELLO: Their chemistry steamed up the screen and audiences, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BODY HEAT")

KATHLEEN TURNER: (As Matty Walker) I'm a married woman.

HURT: (As Ned Racine) Meaning what?

TURNER: (As Matty Walker) Meaning I'm not looking for company.

HURT: (As Ned Racine) Then you should have said I'm a happily married woman.

TURNER: (As Matty Walker) That's my business.

HURT: (As Ned Racine) How about I buy you a drink?

TURNER: (As Matty Walker) I told you. I've got a husband.

HURT: (As Ned Racine) I'll buy him one, too.

TURNER: (As Matty Walker) He's out of town.

HURT: (As Ned Racine) My favorite kind. We'll drink to him.

TURNER: (As Matty Walker) Only comes up on weekends.

HURT: (As Ned Racine) I'm liking him better all the time.

MONDELLO: If "Body Heat" made Hurt a leading man, the role that earned him a best actor Oscar a few years later could hardly have been more different. In "Kiss Of The Spider Woman," he played a flamboyant gay window dresser sharing a jail cell with a revolutionary who shrinks from everything about him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN")

HURT: (As Luis Molina) Do you really think that eating this avocado will make you spoiled and weak? Enjoy what life offers you.

RAUL JULIA: (As Valentin Arregui) What life offers me is the struggle.

HURT: (As Luis Molina) What kind of a cause is that, one that doesn't let you eat an avocado?

JULIA: (As Valentin Arregui) No, you would never understand.

HURT: (As Luis Molina) I understand one thing. I offer you half of my precious avocado, and you throw it back in my face.

JULIA: (As Valentin Arregui) Don't act like that. You sound just like a...

HURT: (Luis Molina) Like a what? Say it. Say it. Like a woman, you mean. What's wrong with being like a woman? Why do only women get to be sensitive?

MONDELLO: "Kiss Of The Spider Woman" was the first of a remarkable three straight Oscar nods for Hurt. He was nominated the next year for "Children Of A Lesser God," in which he played a speech teacher who falls for his deaf student, and the year after that for "Broadcast News," as a lightweight news anchor who must be fed info through his earpiece to get through a newscast.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BROADCAST NEWS")

HOLLY HUNTER: (As Jane Craig) The F-14 is one of the most difficult planes to master. They're called Tomcats.

HURT: (As Tom Grunick) George, isn't the F-14 Tomcat one of the most difficult machines for a pilot to master?

ED WHEELER: (As George Weln) I think you're right.

HUNTER: (As Jane Craig) In the '70s, the first crop had a number of crashes.

HURT: (As Tom Grunick) There was trouble with them in the early days, back in the '70s. Thank you, George.

MONDELLO: Hurt was versatile enough that by the end of the decade, he'd also played a psychophysiologist in "Altered States," a Russian police officer in "Gorky Park," a Vietnam veteran in "The Big Chill" and a travel writer in "The Accidental Tourist," not to mention appearing on Broadway. But fame was never something he sought, and it had consequences in his personal life. He struggled with alcohol and drugs. And his "Children Of A Lesser God" costar, Marlee Matlin, accused him of abuse, both mental and physical, when they were romantically involved. But even as his leading man status faded in the '90s, his work was persuasive enough that television and supporting roles never stopped coming. His most recent film, "The King's Daughter," was released just seven weeks ago. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.