Was Australian icon for decades

Vet Aussie thesp Bill Hunter died in Melbourne on Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 71.

Hunter’s acting career spanned more than five decades and more than 60 pics, but he was particularly prolific in the past 20 years and seemed to have a knack of appearing in films that would become beloved by Aussies, such as the war epic “Gallipoli” and quirky laffer “Strictly Ballroom.”

Hunter was born in Melbourne but raised in rural Victoria. He stumbled into acting when Stanley Kramer made Hollywood film “On the Beach,” with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, in Melbourne in 1959 and he was hired as a stuntman.

Like many actors of his generation, Hunter cut his teeth on the police procedurals of the ’60s and ’70s such as “Matlock,” “Division 4″ and “Homicide,” but by the late ’70s he had moved to film, starring in helmer Phillip Noyce’s “Newsfront” and soon after in Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli” alongside a young Mel Gibson.

The ’80s saw Hunter return to the smallscreen, but in 1994 he starred in pics “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Muriel’s Wedding,” both of which found a huge international aud.

For the next 20 years Hunter was so busy that it lead to quips that his participation in an Aussie pic was mandatory.

Hunter’s stock-in-trade was the traditional, laconic Aussie bloke, a role that suited his gravely voice and no-nonsense onscreen demeanor. It was a role he played again and again; he never seemed to worry about typecasting, and his enthusiasm for the job and workmanlike approach to the craft made him a favorite with helmers.

In 2003 Hunter voiced the character of the scuba-diving dentist who kidnaps Nemo in “Finding Nemo,” and he did more voiceover work in last year’s “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” In 2010 he was also seen in the Stephen Spielberg-backed miniseries “The Pacific.”

Hunter’s final project was starring as one of Oz’s best-known horse trainers, and multiple Melbourne Cup winner, Bart Cummings in upcoming pic “The Cup.”

He is survived by his son, James, and his brother and sister.

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