Fury Road’ villain Hugh Keays-Byrne, dies at 73

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Nicholas Hoult, Josh Helman and Hugh Keays-Byrne star in a scene from the action film “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Hugh Keays-Byrne, the actor best known for playing iconic villains in the “Mad Max” action film franchise, has died. He was 73.

On Wednesday, Keays-Byrne’s manager confirmed to USA TODAY that the Australian-English actor died peacefully Tuesday morning. 

Keays-Byrne starred as the villainous Toecutter in the original 1979 “Mad Max” film. He returned to play the warlord Immortan Joe in 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

George Miller, who directed both films, remembered Keays-Byrne in a statement to USA TODAY.

“Hugh was formidable, daring, warm and kind – both as an artist and a man,” Miller said. “He taught us all so much.”

Charlize Theron, whose Imperator Furiosa battled Immortan Joe in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” paid tribute to the actor.

“RIP Hugh Keays-Byrne,” she wrote on Twitter. “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.”

As the vicious biker-gang leader Toecutter, Keays-Byrne went up against Mel Gibson’s Max in “Mad Max.” The India-born former member of London’s Royal Shakespeare returned as the masked, monster car-driving warlord Immortan Joe for “Fury Road,” which racked up more than $44 million in its opening weekend.

Keays-Byrne reflected on the franchise’s success in an interview with USA TODAY in 2015. “I don’t think you think about things like this. It seems a bit big,” he said, adding that being a villain is just fine, because “for an old ham like me, it’s great fun.”

“I tend to always be the bad guys,” he said. “I’m yearning to play a lover.”

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Keays-Byrne started his acting career as a teenager, doing TV and stage work before joining the Royal Shakespeare Companyand ending up in Australia in 1973 after a touring production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He became a regular on Australian screens big and small before Miller came calling.

The director signed Keays-Byrne and a group of fellow actors to play Toecutter and his gang, but couldn’t afford to fly them from Sydney to Melbourne. So the first-time filmmaker sent them motorcycles via train, and the crew rode down, becoming a tight group as they went.

Off-screen, Keays-Byrne was a homebody, for whom a lovely day involved painting, writing poems or tooling around in his garden.

“I love sitting around talking, having a coffee, chatting about politics and rubbish,” he told USA TODAY. “It’s all good.”

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Contributing: Brian Truitt

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