Born: January 23, 1944;

Died: July 19, 2019

Rutger Hauer, who has died aged 75, was a Dutch actor who became a household name both in his native Netherlands, through television and film work from the late 1960s on, and in Hollywood, beginning with his breakthrough years in the early 1980s. He was known for a remarkable versatility which fed off his distinctive looks, with the boyish handsomeness of his white-blonde hair balancing a rugged masculinity which only grew stronger as he aged.

Through his life, Hauer became known as an actor who could flit with ease between delicate drama, tough action roles and psychopathic villainy, all while retaining an essential sense of himself as an actor; in the early 1990s he even became the face and voice of Guinness, in a series of droll adverts for the Irish ale. Yet in a career filled with stand-out roles, most who knew his work – including Hauer himself – will agree that one towers above all others; that of the Nexus-6 ‘replicant’ N6MAA10616, otherwise known as Roy Batty, in director Ridley Scott’s classic future noir film Blade Runner (1982).

In the world of the film, which is adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Roy Batty is the leader of a rogue gang of human-mimicking replicant androids, who pose a danger to the public and are being hunted to death by Harrison Ford’s grizzled ‘Blade Runner’ Rick Deckard. Super-powerful, the fearsome combat creatures appear as physically relentless alpha specimens of simulated humanity; yet deep within, their sophisticated programming is awakening feelings of mortality and existential dread at the planned obsolescence of their short lifespan of a few dozen months.

Hauer’s sense of physical and psychological menace as the killing machine Batty gave audiences a chill (Dick himself enthused about his “cold, Aryan, flawless” performance), but his finale came in a moment of resonant humanity, and one of cinema’s great death scenes. Finally recognising human compassion in the last few moments of his artificially time-limited life, Batty saves Deckard’s life and sits down to die on a rain-washed rooftop.

His lines are striking, and regularly quoted: “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” What’s even more powerful, in this sermon to the wonder of a life’s experience moments before death, is that Hauer had crafted the finished version himself the night before, trimming unnecessary words and adding the “tears in rain” part.

“All I did was write one line… that’s the poet in me,” said the actor in 2017. “And then for that line to have such ****ing wings – can you imagine what that feels like?” Hauer had recently appeared alongside Sylvester Stallone in the crime thriller Nighthawks (1981) and was slated to appear as a television journalist drawn into a spy game in Sam Peckinpah’s final film The Osterman Weekend (1983), but Blade Runner was the making of him in America.

The 1980s were Hauer’s heyday, and he worked his way through some key roles in his career, among them ones in cult director Nicholas Roeg’s Eureka (1983), with Gene Hackman and Theresa Russell; Richard Donner’s well-remembered historical fantasy Ladyhawke (1985); big-budget period drama Flesh and Blood (1985); Holocaust drama Escape from Sobibor (1987; for which he won a Golden Globe); and Italian film The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988), which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Another cult success of Hauer’s career was urban horror The Hitcher (1986), in which he played a troubled, sadistic hitchhiker. Critically dismissed and a flop at the time, its legend grew through the home video market.

Flesh and Blood was notable both as the debut American film of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, and as his only American film with Hauer. The pair had previously enjoyed a fruitful relationship in Holland, from Hauer’s screen debut in the similarly-themed television show Floris (1969) and its sequel Floris von Rosemund (1975), to the classics of Dutch cinema Turkish Delight (1973), Katie Tippel (1975), Soldier of Orange (1977) and Spetters (1980).

By the early 1990s, Hauer’s career was striking an odd balance between high-concept, low-budget action films for video rental (1989’s Blind Fury, about a blind Vietnam vet martial artist, was one particularly odd entry) and a range of credible ongoing cameos. Of the huge range of work he did, later highlights include the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), comic adaptations Sin City and Batman Begins (both 2005), the Quentin Tarantino-influenced exploitation flick Hobo with a Shotgun (2011), the big-budget Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) and recent comedy-Western The Sisters Brothers (2018).

Born Rutger Oelsen Hauer in 1944 in Breukelen near Utrecht, while the Netherlands were still under German occupation, Hauer was the son of drama teachers Teunke (née Mellema) and Arend, and one of four siblings; the only son. Raised in Amsterdam, he ran away to sea for a year at the age of 15, and when he returned completed his high school diploma and studied at the Academy for Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam.

Made a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands in 2013, Hauer was cited by the Dutch Rembrandt Award as the country’s actor of the 21st Century, and worked hard to promote AIDS awareness and environmental issues. Dying at home in the Dutch village of Beetsterzwag, he is survived by his wife of 34 years Ineke ten Cate, whom he got together with in 1968, his daughter by his first marriage Ayesha, and his grandson.

David Pollock