Alright so here’s a death that caught me completely by surprise. While he may not be a household name for some these days, Rutger Hauer was an accomplished actor known for his philanthropy, his unmistakable voice and cadence, and his willingness to forgo big paychecks in favor of projects that interested him personally. Hauer died on Friday, July 19, 2019 at the age of 75 due to an illness but only in the last 48 hours has his death become international news. A star of both the big and small screen, Hauer is mostly well known for his iconic turn as Roy Batty in “Blade Runner” but there’s far more to this Dutch actor’s career than just a single performance. In honor of his contributions to film, it’s time to look back at his life and career one last time. This is “In Memorium: Rutger Hauer”.
Born Rutger Oelsen Hauer in January of 1944, Rutger Hauer was introduced to acting right out of the gate as his parents, Teunke and Arend Hauer, operated an acting school in Amsterdam. In fact, Hauer made his acting debut at the age of 11 in the play “Ajax”. He was born in Breukelen in the Netherlands, at the time under German occupation during World War II, and until his death credited this as helping him grow up as a pacifist. At one time he even stated, “violence frightens me”. However, this didn’t prevent him to enlisting in the Dutch merchant navy. Hauer left school at the age of 15 to join the armed forces and worked odd jobs while finishing his high school studies at night. He eventually entered the Academy for Theater and Dance in Amsterdam to perfect his acting skills but dropped out to join the Royal Netherlands Army training to be a combat medic. Hauer wouldn’t stay long as he left the army due to his stance against weapons and graduated acting school in 1967.
After spending some time working with a local troupe of performers Hauer earned his first major on-screen roll in 1969 as part of the cast of “Floris”, a Dutch medieval television program that made him a household name in his homeland. While he appeared in deleted scenes of the 1969 film “Monsieur Hawarden” his first true movies were a 1973 adaptation of “Rumpelstiltskin” and director Paul Verhoeven’s “Turkish Delight” which became the most successful film of Dutch cinema, an honor it holds to this day. Hauer continued to perform in numerous Dutch films over the first decade of his career appearing in his first non-Dutch film in 1975’s “The Wilby Conspiracy” and racking up 14 film credits from different nations from 1973 through 1979. But it was the next decade that would make Hauer a worldwide star.
The 1980s proved to be a career-defining decade for Hauer starting with his role in the Dutch film “Spetters” which is heavily crediting for launching his Hollywood career. He followed that up with two minor films in 1981, “Nighthawks” and “Chanel Solitaire”, but in 1982 he turned in a performance that would become legendary playing replicant Roy Batty in “Blade Runner”. The role earned Hauer a Saturn Award nomination, his first industry award nod, and while it would take time for the film to earn the respect it so deserved Hauer’s performance has often overshadowed Harrison Ford as the highlight of the film. His famous dying monologue is often considered one of the best and most poetic in film, made even more impressive by the fact that it was partially improvised. From there Hauer earned consistent work in Hollywood and beyond, appearing in at least one film every year throughout the decade. Among his most notable roles were his involvement in “Flesh & Blood”, “The Osterman Weekend”, the Italian film “The legend of the Holy Drinker” (one of Hauer’s own personal favorite performances), and Nick Parker’s samurai action-comedy “Blind Fury”. He also appeared in a film I used to love in my younger years, “Ladyhawke” and was a frontrunner to land the role as Robocop that eventually went to Peter Weller. He played the titular killer in the horror classic “The Hitcher” and earned a Golden Globe for television as an actor for his role in the 1987 TV movie “Escape from Sobibor”. It would be his only major industry award win. In total, he appeared in 17 theatrical films and one documentary during the 80s.
In the 90s Hauer became well known for his turn in Guinness commercials and for his increased involvement in low-budget productions and televisions films. During this decade he was featured in six TV films earning another Golden Globe nomination. On the film side, he appeared in over 20 theatrical releases, one every year of the decade except for 1990 where he appeared in no films on the big or small screen. Among his more notable performances during that time were roles in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie, “Omega Doom”, “Split Second”, and “The Beans of Egypt, Maine”. He capped off the decade earning the Dutch “Best Actor of the Century Rembrandt Award”, the final one before the award temporary hiatus until 2006.
In the 2000s Hauer veered back towards more mainstream projects appeared in nearly 25 theatrical releases as well as numerous straight to video projects. Among his bigger roles in mainstream films were “Sin City”, “Batman Begins”, and George Clooney’s directorial debut “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”. He also continued his work on television films including appearing in the TV remake of “The Poseidon Adventure”. Continuing his spectacular consistency, Hauer appeared in a movie every year that decade except for 2003 and continued that trend in the 2010s where he appeared in a film every year through 2018. The last decade saw him appear in major productions like “The Rite” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”. He also dabbled in video games in his later years lending his voice to 2017’s “Observer” and replacing the late Leonard Nimoy as Master Xehanort in “Kingdom Hearts III”, released earlier this year. At the time of his death three more films featuring his acting talent were under production and his final television appearance is slated for later this year as the Ghost of Christmas Future in the BBC and FX miniseries retread of “A Christmas Carol”.
Outside of film, Hauer was a noted environmentalist and, as already stated, an open pacifist. One of his biggest contributions off-screen was the Rutger Hauer Starfish Association, an AIDS awareness group which continues today and shared a thoughtful goodbye to its founder on its website. If you want to learn more about what they do you can click here to visit their page. He was married twice, eventually settling with his second wife Ineke ten Cate in 1985. The two had been together since 1968 and remained together for over fifty years. He had one child from his first marriage named Aysha Hauer, herself an actress, and he became a grandfather in 1987. In 2006 he was the subject of a documentary, “Blond, Blue Eyes”, where he delved into his creative process and film selections. Hauer released a biography, “All Those Moments: Stories of Heroes, Villains, Replicants, and Blade Runners”, a year later recounting his years in acting and his most iconic performances. The proceeds from the book helped his Starfish Association with their cause.
Rutger Hauer was a truly great actor and performer, and one who greatly respected his craft. Enough so that he became known for his very selective process in choosing his projects throughout his career. He rarely appeared in films that didn’t peak his own personal interest and respected his talent enough to act for fun and art, not for the money. He had no qualms with taking roles on the big or small screen and never forgot his roots as he continued to be a big part of Dutch cinema throughout his life. Whether you remember him as a small piece of a project you hold dear to your heart or for his most famous role at Roy Battey, one thing is for certain: this spectacular performer will be sorely missed and you can bet his contributions to cinema will not be “lost in time…like tears in the rain”.