Hugh Keays-Byrne, ‘Mad Max’s Immortan Joe, Dies at 73
The man behind two of cinema’s greatest villains has died. Hugh Keays-Byrne is best known in America as Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road — but even many fans of that film don’t realize Keays-Byrne also played the villain in the original Mad Max from 1979. There he was the terrifying Toecutter, the leader of the gang who terrorizes Max and his family. According to the Facebook page of Australian filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith, who directed him in The Man From Hong Kong, Keays-Byrne has passed away. He was 73 years old.
Keays-Byrne was born in India to English parents who moved back home to England when Keays-Byrne was still a boy. He first went to Australia as an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company in a touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When the tour was over, Keays-Byrne remained in Australia, and went on to have a long and successful career there in both film and television.
While he worked for decades, Keays-Byrne remains most famous for his two Mad Max roles. His Immortan Joe, the brutal warlord of Fury Road’s ruined future, became instantly iconic the first moment he appeared onscreen, imploring his War Boys to ride “shiny and chrome” in his service.
Keays-Byrne was previously Mad Max director George Miller’s choice to play Martian Manhunter in his proposed version of Justice League that almost happened, but was eventually canceled and replaced by the DC Extended Universe series of films. Playing Immortan Joe in Fury Road brought Keays-Byrne’s career full circle, as he’d previously played the evil gang leader Toecutter in Miller’s original Mad Max.
While Keays-Byrne also appeared in Farscape and in films like Mad Dog Morgan, it’s his two Mad Max roles that will ensure that he rides eternal, shiny and chrome, on the highways of Valhalla. Ironically, according to Trenchard-Smith’s Facebook tribute, Keays-Byrne bore little resemblance to his unforgettable bad guys. “Hugh had a generous heart,” he wrote, “offering a helping hand to people in need, or a place to stay to a homeless teenager. 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.”
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