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Mad Max: Fury Road's Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Immortan Joe, dies at 73

By Nivea Serrao
Immortan Joe Mad Max Fury Road

Hugh Keays-Byrne, an Australian actor best known for his role in the Mad Max franchise bringing the iconic baddie Immortan Joe to life, has died. He was 73. 

The news was announced on Twitter by filmmaker Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here, Mohawk), in a pair of tweets that celebrated Keays-Byrne's two different starring roles in two different movies in George Miller's much-lauded dystopian action series — both of which were set decades apart. Keays-Byrne's passing was subsequently confirmed by trades such as The Hollywood Reporter.

"Hugh Keays-Byrne, an unsung hero of Aussie cinema has passed away at age 73," began Geoghegan's tweet. "I'm continually floored that he played Toecutter, the central antagonist of 1979's Mad Max *and* Immortan Joe, the central antagonist of 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road. Thanks for all the entertainment, sir."

Geoghegan also went on to celebrate Keays-Bryne's life and career, adding: "By all accounts, Hugh Keays-Byrne, who trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company, was an absolutely wonderful human who fought very hard for environmental and humanitarian issues. This photo of him from earlier this year [below] says it all. You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome."

Born on May 18, 1947, to British parents in Srinagar, in Kashmir, India, Keays-Byrne moved back to Britain when he was a child, where he would go on to study theater at the Royal Shakespeare Company, eventually starring in productions of classics such as HamletAs You Like ItMuch Ado About Nothing and more between the years of 1968 and 1972. He travelled to Australia as part of famed theater director Peter Brook's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, choosing to remain in the country after. 

This led to a series of roles in film and television as Keays-Byrne such as Boy Meets Girl (1967), Stone (1974), The Man from Hong Kong (1975), and Mad Dog Morgan (1976) before landing the part of Toecutter in George Miller's 1979 classic, Mad Max

Fans of the film will remember Keays-Byrne's character (pictured below) to be the leader of a motorcycle gang terrorizing a small town in the action flick. One of the movie's main antagonists, he goes on to meet a swift end at the hands of Mel Gibson's incarnation of the series' titular character, Max Rockatansky. He would later return to the franchise more than 30 years later to take on the role of Immortan Joe, the central villain of 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road — and one of the most memorable and stunningly wild bad guys in recent history. Not only did he tangle with Tom Hardy's take on Max, but he served as an antagonist to Charlize Theron's now-iconic Furiosa

This makes Keays-Byrne one of the few people — other than director George Miller himself — to work on the original trilogy of films, starting with Mad Max in 1979, then Mad Max 2 in 1981, and finally Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985, and return for the franchise's continuation. 

Hugh Keays-Byrne Mad Max

However, this isn't the only time Keays-Byrne waded into genre fare, having starred as the brutal bounty hunter Danny in the 1984 film Starship (otherwise known as Lorca and the Outlaws and 2084), before snagging the role of Grunchlk, a back-stabbing fixer on the science fiction TV series Farscape. He might have also gone on to play a character rumored to be the Martian Manhunter himself, in George Miller's planned film, Justice League: Mortal, before that project was eventually cancelled. 

Following his passing, Keays-Byrne was remembered by some of the actors and filmmakers he'd worked with over the years, including How to Train Your Dragon star Jay Baruchel and filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith. 

I am sad to report that our friend Hugh Keays-Byrne passed away in hospital yesterday. A former Royal Shakespeare...

Posted by Brian Trenchard-Smith on Wednesday, December 2, 2020
  Keays-Byrne is survived by his partner Christina.