Obituary: ‘Mad Max’ Villain Hugh Keays-Byrne Dies Aged 73


Two time Mad Max star, Hugh Keays-Byrne, died on 1 December age of 73.

Brian Trenchard-Smith, a British filmmaker, confirmed the actor’s death on Facebook, saying: “He was a fine actor and a good friend to Margaret and myself for 46 years. We spent many happy Sunday mornings with him, his partner Christina, and a group of fellow actors and artists.”

The actor was best known for playing the antagonist Toecutter in 1979’s Mad Max opposite Mel Gibson, and later in the 2015 reboot Mad Max: Fury Road, as the evil warlord Immortan Joe.

Byrne was born in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India in May 1947. He moved to England with his family in 1968 and began his acting career. Afterwards, he began starring in Royal Shakespeare Company productions including The Tempest, King Lear and Hamlet, between 1968 and 1972.

Later, he moved to Australia in 1973 where he worked as a TV and film director. It was here he landed the role of Toecutter in the first Mad Max production. After starring in the original film opposite Mel Gibson, Byrne said he was happy to receive another opportunity to play a different villain in George Miller’s franchise.

Byrne said he felt his original character Toecutter, was a member of an “oppressed nomadic minority” and that Immortan Joe was a “renaissance man”.

Toecutter Survived to Become Immortan Joe - Kings of Screams
Byrne’s most famous roles: Mad Max’s Toecutter (Left) and Fury Road’s Immortan Joe (Right)

‘Beautiful soul’

Tributes were given to the late actor, including his former co-star, Charlize Theron.

Luke Buckmaster, film critic for The Guardian, Australia spoke about how Hugh was an underrated performer who never got enough opportunities in big blockbusters.

“Hugh was less a performer than a visceral, wall-rattling force who seemed to summon his own weather conditions. You watched the guy, slack-jawed and kind of terrorised, uncertain whether his performances should be studied in film school or analysed by the Bureau of Meteorology.”

Trenchard-Smith, who directed him in the 1975 film The Man From Hong Kong, said:

“He cared about social justice and preserving the environment long before these issues became fashionable his life was governed by his sense of the oneness of humanity we will miss his example and his friendship Vale Hugh.”

Hugh is survived by his partner Christina.

Words by Jaimie Kay

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