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.