Rutger Hauer, 1944–2019
The gentle actor who excelled in bad-guy roles
Rutger Hauer’s brooding intensity and otherworldly bearing made him the perfect Hollywood villain. Standing 6-foot-1, with rough-hewn features and piercing blue eyes, the Dutch actor played a charismatic terrorist in the 1981 thriller Nighthawks, a psychopathic hitchhiker in the 1986 slasher film The Hitcher, and numerous Nazis and vampires. But his most famous role was as Roy Batty, the leader of a gang of bioengineered androids who rebel against their human creators in the 1982 sci-fi thriller Blade Runner. There was nothing robotic about Hauer’s performance—with a few lines, he rendered his killer “replicant” painfully human. In the film’s climactic scene, a dying Batty describes the interstellar wonders he’s seen, lamenting that “all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Hauer shaped that now iconic monologue, paring it down from a lengthy soliloquy into a few short sentences and adding the indelible final words. “Part of the freedom that you have as a bad guy,” said Hauer, “is that you can go anywhere, try anything.”
Hauer was born in the Netherlands to actor parents, said The Times (U.K.). At first, Hauer shunned the family business, running away from home at age 15 to serve on a freighter in the Dutch Merchant Navy. After a year sailing around the world, he returned home and enrolled in acting school, but soon dropped out to join the army—a decision “he almost instantly came to regret when he refused training in the use of deadly weapons.” Declared mentally unfit and discharged, Hauer “took up acting again in earnest,” said The Guardian (U.K.). His role as a Robin Hood–like character in the 1969 Dutch TV series Floris made “him a star in his homeland.” But he remained relatively unknown elsewhere.
Blade Runner made Hauer “a staple of action and horror films, if never quite a star,” said The Washington Post. He didn’t always play villains. He won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor playing a Jewish resistance fighter in the 1987 TV movie Escape From Sobibor. Despite his more fearsome roles, off screen Hauer was a peace-loving environmentalist who supported Greenpeace and established an AIDS awareness charity. “That young boy who sailed the seas is still here with me,” Hauer said earlier this year. “And he’s saying this about my life: ‘That was awesome.’”