The Vexing Problem of the Problematic Obit
Humans aren’t perfect, and dying doesn’t make them any more so.
Editor’s Note: This story contains a description of physical and sexual assault that may be disturbing to some readers.
Like anyone who loves movies as much I love movies, I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of William Hurt over the weekend. Hurt was briefly one of the biggest movie stars in the world during the 1980s — his run of Altered States, Body Heat, The Big Chill, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Children of a Lesser God, The Accidental Tourist and, my favorite performance (and movie) of all of them, Broadcast News — before deciding he’d much rather be a Capital-A Actor than a leading man, settling into a series of terrific supporting performances and stage productions. He seemed to be taken too soon: There was still so much work to be done.
I spent most of Sunday, after learning of his death, digging deep into the best Hurt moments and reading interviews with Hurt, including this fantastic one with Roger Ebert from 1988. It made me sad, but also invigorated: All one could hope for, when people hear of their death, is for those people to want to revisit one’s life’s work and reflect on its greatness. Hurt was a great actor. His death only reminded those who had forgotten.
But it also reminded people of other things. Specifically: It reminded many of the allegations of his former co-star, and ex-wife, Marlee Matlin — currently in Best Picture nominee Coda — of abuse. The allegations, which came out in Matlin’s autobiography a few years ago, are difficult to read.
Matlin’s memoir alleges that the Oscar-winning actor physically abused and sexually assaulted her. In one particularly horrific passage, Matlin remembers an incident that took place while Hurt was filming Broadcast News (he would later be nominated for an Academy Award for his performance). Hurt “finally came home around 4:30 A.M. drunk and woke me up,” Matlin writes. “The next thing I knew he’d pulled me out of the bed, screaming at me, shaking me. I was scared, I was sobbing. Then he threw me on the bed, started ripping off his clothes and mine. I was crying. ‘No, no, no. Please Bill, no.’ The next thing I remember is Bill ramming himself inside me as I sobbed.” …