The death of actor William Hurt resurfaced allegations by ex-partners Marlee Matlin and Sandra Jennings that he was physically abusive to the women in his life.
Now another former lover is talking about her experience of allegedly being battered by the Oscar winner, whose career was unscathed by the stories of cruel violence.
In an essay for Variety, writer and domestic-violence activist Donna Kaz relives how her romance with him in the late 1970s turned into torture that ended only when he dumped her as his career took off.
Kaz says that after they met at a Manhattan restaurant where she was working, Hurt invited her to go with him to Los Angeles, where he was filming Altered States.
“We lived in a bungalow on the beach in Malibu. On his days off we swam, read poetry to each other and made love. But our relationship quickly morphed into a different cycle,” she wrote.
“Bill would snap, physically shove, punch and beat me, followed by tears, apologies and him offering me expensive gifts. When the battering began I sloughed it off. He said he was sorry. Perhaps I instigated it. I only had to visit the ER once. It was only after many, many years I admitted to myself that I was the victim of domestic violence.”
Kaz writes that she stayed in touch with Hurt after he broke up with her in 1980, never realizing that she had been abused until she began volunteering for a crisis hotline.
“As other volunteers were introducing themselves as survivors, it hit me that I was a survivor too,” she wrote.
In 1989, Sandra Jennings, who had a child with Hurt and was suing him for palimony, alleged that he was physically and verbally abusive and had “smashed her across the face” five days after she gave birth.
“He’d have one drink and he’d have a personality change,”Jennings said at the time. “Then when he didn’t drink for a couple of days, he’d get violent. I started seeing it, and that’s why I started going to Al-Anon meetings. But he was absolutely refusing to talk about it at that time, or consider it.”
In 2010, Matlin went public with her stories of abuse at Hurt’s hands in her memoir—recalling how he berated her in a limo after she won an Oscar, asking her, “What makes you think you deserve it?”
But Matlin described an even more horrifying scene that she said unfolded when Hurt came home from the Broadcast News set drunk and woke her up.
“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,” Matlin wrote
Of the last time he beat her, she recalled, “The struggle turned violent. I was afraid I might not survive. I pulled myself free and ran to the phone… Before I could say anything, Bill yanked the phone out of my hand and slammed it down.” She left him after that.
Hurt denied abusing Jennings, but of Matlin’s accusations, he said, “My own recollection is that we both apologized and both did a great deal to heal our lives. Of course, I did and do apologize for any pain I caused. And I know we both have grown. I wish Marlee and her family nothing but good.”
Hurt, who had battled metastatic prostate cancer for several years, died on March 13, triggering an outpouring of accolades. Kaz said she had to “prevent his memory from sitting down next to me and abusing me all over again.”
“In writing this I had to let him live again for a moment or two. And in that moment there was sorrow, regret, anger and a dream of reconciliation that will never be,” she wrote.
“I am ambivalent that my chance of reconciliation with William Hurt will never be. I feel lucky that I survived and overcame him. I am ecstatic that I am still alive to speak my truth.”