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When one thinks of the Mad Max franchise, among the people who understandably come first to mind are George Miller, who’s directed and co-written all the Mad Max movies, and Mel Gibson, who starred as the eponymous protagonist in its first three installments. However, one actor who occupied a special place in the franchise’s history is Hugh Keays-Byrne thanks to his dual roles. Sadly, word’s come in that Keays-Byrne has passed away at the age of 73.
This news comes from filmmaker Ted Geoghegan, who shared the following on social media, and added in a follow-up tweet that by all accounts, Hugh Keays-Byrne was “an absolutely wonderful human who fought very hard for environmental and humanitarian issues.”
Yes, as noted above, not only did Hugh Keays-Byrne appear in two Mad Max movies, he played the main antagonist both times. In 1979’s Mad Max, Keays-Byrne appeared as Toecutter, the leader of a motorcycle gang terrorizing a small town in dystopian Australia. Those who’ve seen the movie that kicked off this wild franchise will remember that things didn’t end well for Toecutter, with Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky forcing him into the path of an oncoming semi-truck.
Over 30 years later, Hugh Keays-Byrne returned to the Mad Max fold as Immortan Joe, the breathing apparatus-wearing tyrannical ruler of the Australian wasteland who led the War Boys in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. This made Keays-Byrne the only actor to participate in both the original Mad Max trilogy and this sequel/semi-reboot. As with Toecutter, Immortan Joe met a rough end in Fury Road, with Charlize Theron’s Furiosa killing him during her and Tom Hardy’s Max’s mission to overthrow his reign and provide his water supply to the people living near the Citadel.
While American audiences know Hugh Keays-Byrne best from the Mad Max franchise, he appeared in a lot of British and Australian projects following his time as a stage actor, including Stone, The Chain Reaction, Starship (a.k.a. Lorca and the Outlaws and 2084) and Resistance, the latter of which he also directed. Fans of the cult sci-fi series Farscape will recognize Keays-Byrne as the nefarious Grunchlk, a role he reprised for the follow-up miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars.
Had superhero movie history turned out differently, we also could have seen Hugh Keays-Byrne leave his mark on that genre. In the late 2000s, George Miller was hired to direct Justice League: Mortal, and he brought Keays-Byrne to play one of the DC Comics superhero team’s founding members, Martian Manhunter. Mortal was ultimately scrapped due to production and budgetary complications, and now Martian Manhunter is finally making his live-action film debut in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, with it finally being revealed that Harry Lennix’s Calvin Swanwick is the Martian hero in disguise.
We here at CinemaBlend offer our condolences to Hugh Keays-Byrne’s family and friends. If you enjoyed the actor’s work in the Mad Max movies or are a fan of one of his other projects, feel free to let us know in the comments below.