Hugh Keays-Byrne, the actor best known for playing iconic villains in the Mad Max film franchise, has died. A representative for Keays-Byrne confirmed his death to Deadline, stating that the actor died peacefully Tuesday morning. He was 73. At this time, a cause of death has not been made available, though Brian Trenchard-Smith, who directed Keays-Byrne in the 1975 film The Man From Hong Kong (also known as The Dragon Flies), reported that the actor died in the hospital.
Confirming his death, Trenchard-Smith said that he was "sad to report that our friend Hugh Keays-Byrne passed away in hospital yesterday." He went on to commend the late actor's "innate sense of humor," which he "brought not only to my film but every production he worked on." Trenchard-Smith remembered Keays-Byrne as someone who had "a generous heart, offering a helping hand to people in need, or a place to stay to a homeless teenager" and said that "his life was governed by his sense of the oneness of humanity. We will miss his example and his friendship."
Born in 1947 in Kashmir, India, Keays-Byrne trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company and remained in Australia after production of A Midsummer Night's Dream traveled there. It was there that he earned his first TV credit, starring in the series Bellbird, created by Barbara Vernon, in 1967. He went on to appear in a number of other titles throughout the '60s and '70s, starring as Morrie Grosse in Trenchard-Smith's 1975 action film. In the years that followed, the actor went on to score a number of other roles and was cast by Australian director George Miller as the ruthless biker/gang leader Toecutter in 1979's Mad Max. He returned to the franchise 36 years later in 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road as Immortan Joe. Speaking to USA Today, Miller said he wanted to bring back Keays-Byrne an early print of the original Mad Max was released with a poor American dub of his voice, with Miller saying that he "always felt so guilty about that. I thought I had to make up for it in some way." News of the actor's passing immediately prompted an outpouring of tributes, including from Charlize Theron, who starred with Keays-Byrne in Fury Road.
RIP Hugh Keays-Byrne 😔 It’s amazing you were able to play an evil warlord so well cause you were such a kind, beautiful soul. You will be deeply missed my friend. pic.twitter.com/kXDhNs5jEU— Charlize Theron (@CharlizeAfrica) December 2, 2020
Keays-Byrne's other credits include Ben Hall, Rush and Mad Dog Morgan, Kangaroo, For Love Alone, Secret Valley, and Farscape, among many others. He also appeared in the miniseries versions of Moby Dick and Journey to the Center of the Earth in the late '90s. He survived by his partner, Christina.