British Actor Albert Finney, Star of Stage and Screen, Dies at 82

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Albert Finney, the esteemed British actor and five-time Oscar nominee known for his shape-shifting work in such films as Tom Jones, The Dresser, Murder on the Orient Express and Erin Brockovich, has died. He was 82.

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Finney’s family told the Associated Press on Friday that he “passed away peacefully after a short illness with those closest to him by his side.” The actor was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2007.

 

One of the godfathers of modern British cinema, Finney mixed film, TV and stage performances throughout a standout career that spanned six decades. He never succumbed to the allure of screen stardom and was given BAFTA’s Academy Fellowship award (the equivalent of a lifetime Oscar) in 2001.

 

The restless actor also won an Emmy for portraying Winston Churchill opposite Vanessa Redgrave as his wife in the 2002 BBC-HBO telefilm The Gathering Storm.

 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed best actor Oscar noms on Finney for playing the bawdy title character in the best picture winner Tom Jones (1963), directed by frequent collaborator Tony Richardson; for his work as the mysterious Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express; for his performance as a temperamental, fading actor in Peter Yates’ The Dresser (1983); and for starring as an alcoholic British consul in Under the Volcano (1984), helmed by John Huston.

 

Finney received another Oscar nom, for best supporting actor, for portraying the crusading California environmental lawyer Ed Masry in Erin Brockovich (2000).

 

 

David Lean originally selected him for the title role in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but Finney turned it down because it required him to sign a multiyear studio contract. The part in one of the greatest films ever made went to, of course, Peter O’Toole.

 

More recently, Finney portrayed the evil psychologist Albert Hirsch in the Jason Bourne movies released in 2007 and 2012 and was seen as the Scottish gamekeeper Kincade in the 2012 James Bond installment Skyfall. That would mark his final onscreen appearance.

 

Legendary for his Shakespearean prowess, he also received Tony Award nominations in 1964 and 1968 for his work in Luther (as Martin Luther) and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, respectively.

 

Finney’s respect for acting, rather than the trappings of celebrity, allowed him to seek out parts for their character depth rather than the notoriety they might bring him. Often, he was unrecognizable under makeup or in costume, and he was known for his mastery of accents.

 

The son and grandson of bookmakers, Albert Finney Jr. was born on May 9, 1936, in Manchester, England. His childhood home was damaged by German bombs during World War II.

Finney graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1955 and early on served as an understudy to Laurence Oliver. While filling in on stage for the famed actor in the title role in Coriolanus, he attracted notice and film offers.

 

Finney made his first feature appearance alongside Olivier in The Entertainer (1960) under Richardson, for whom he also frequently worked in the theater. In the “kitchen sink” drama Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1960), he played the anti-hero Arthur Seaton, an angry factory worker mired in an environment not unlike the one he experienced during his working-class upbringing.

Finney was considered one of most talented performers to come out of Britain in his country’s ’60s cinema heyday, but that did not damper his enthusiasm for the theater, and he continued to perform on U.K. stages, taking the lead in King Lear and Hamlet.

 

His other feature credits include Stephen Frears’ Gumshoe (1971), Wolfen (1981), Looker (1981), Shoot the Moon (1982), Rich in Love (1992), The Browning Version (1994), A Man of No Importance (1994), Breakfast of Champions (1999), Traffic (2000), Big Fish (2003), Ridley Scott’s A Good Year (2006) and Lumet’s last film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007).

 

On television, he took on a demanding array of characters, playing the title role in the 1984 CBS telefilm Pope John Paul II and then the sexually promiscuous owner of a country inn in a 1990 BBC miniseries, The Green Man.

 

In 1977, Finney recorded an album of folk ballads that was released by Motown, and his life was said to serve as an inspiration for another famed Manchester native, singer Morrissey.

 

Finney was married to English actress Jane Wenham from 1957-61, to French actress Anouk Aimee (Oscar-nominated for A Man and a Woman, she left him for actor Ryan O’Neal) from 1970-78 and to travel agent Penelope Delmage since 2006.

 

She survives him, as does a son, veteran camera operator Simon Finney.

Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:  AP
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