William Hurt, Oscar-Winning ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ Actor, Dies at 71

William Hurt, who burst into stardom as the hapless lawyer Ned Racine in “Body Heat” and won an Oscar for best actor for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” portraying a gay man sharing a Brazilian prison cell with a revolutionary, died on Sunday. He was 71.

The death was announced in a statement from a son, Will, The Associated Press reported. It did not indicate a cause or where he died.

Mr. Hurt, tall, blond and speaking in a measured cadence that lent a cerebral quality to his characters, was a leading man in some of the most popular films of the 1980s, including “The Big Chill” (1983), “Children of a Lesser God” (1986), “Broadcast News” (1987) and “The Accidental Tourist” (1988).

In later years, Mr. Hurt transitioned from leading man to supporting roles, and was nominated for an Academy Award a fourth time for “A History of Violence” (2005).

Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times in 1985 of the “brilliant achievement” of Mr. Hurt and his co-star, Raul Julia, in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

“Mr. Hurt won a well-deserved best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for a performance that is crafty at first, carefully nurtured and finally stirring in profound, unanticipated ways,” she wrote. “What starts out as a campy, facetious catalog of Hollywood trivia becomes an extraordinarily moving film about manhood, heroism and love.”

Despite his successes as a leading man in Hollywood, he told The Times in 1990 that “theater is a language I speak better or am more tuned into than English.”

“Even one moment onstage is a glacier of comprehension,” he added. “That’s where the work is. And it’s as fascinating to study as any other science.”

In a 2009 interview with The Times, he explained: “I don’t have to be the star, physically. My greatest offering is my concept. It isn’t my face.”

His approach, he said, was to “basically try to make my body as much a matter of Silly Putty as I can, and in some sense sculpt that to be perfectly appropriate to themes and the metaphors that are in the play at hand.”

A full obituary is being prepared.

Christine Chung contributed reporting.

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