Friday, April 20, 2012

Actor William Finley Passes On

Character actor William Finley, perhaps best known for the lead role in Brian De Palma's cult classic Phantom of the Paradise, passed on 14 April 2012 at the age of 69.

William Finley was born on 20 September 1942 in New York City. At the Collegiate School in New York City he worked as a theatrical set designer on school productions. He graduated from Columbia University. It was while he was doing graduate work at Sarah Lawrence College that he met director Brian De Palma. William Finley made his film debut in Mr. De Palma's short Woton's Wake, on which he also worked as a set designer.

Mr. Finley would also make his feature film debut in a movie directed by Brian De Palma, 1968's Murder à la Mod. Over the next few years he would appear in Mr. De Palma's films The Wedding Party (1969), Dionysus (1970), and Sisters (1973).  It was in 1974 that the film for which he was best known was released, Phantom of the Paradise. Phantom of the Paradise was a modernised, rock version of Phantom of the Opera, with elements of Faust and The Picture of Dorian Gray thrown in for good measure. In the film William Finley played singer and composer Winslow Leach, who after his face is damaged by a record press, takes revenge on the music mogul (Swan, played by Paul Williams) who wronged him. The movie received mixed reviews and bombed at the box office upon its initial release, but go onto develop a cult following and also grow in reputation as well.

Following Phantom of the Paradise, Mr. Finley would appear in such films as Eaten Alive (1977), The Fury (1978), Wise Blood (1979), Simon (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), The Funhouse (1981), Silent Rage (1982), Double Negative (1985), Night Terrors (1985), and The Black Dahlia (2006). On television he appeared in the TV movie Last Hours Before Morning as well as the shows Tales From the Crypt, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Masters of Horror.

William Finley also wrote the screenplay for the film The First Time (1985). With Marion Weinstein he co-wrote the book Racewalking, essentially a guide to the sport of racewalking.

William Finley was an actor who had a talent for playing roles that were somewhat left of centre. In this respect his role as Winslow Leach in Phantom of the Paradise was the rule, not the exception, to the sort of parts he played throughout his career. In Silent Rage he played the eccentric scientist Dr. Paul Vaughn. In Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive he played the somewhat disturbed Roy. Mr. Finley was quite good at playing characters whose sanity was at times lacking, taking characters who could have been mere stereotypes and making them three dimensional. In this respect he was perfectly cast in Phantom of the Paradise. While it is the movie for which he was remembered, William Finley played many great roles throughout his career.


KC said...

Oh no--this is the first I've heard of Finley passing. I'm so glad you write these tributes. Phantom of the Paradise is one of my favorite movies, and I loved him in the lead. He's one of the most sympathetic characters I've ever seen. RIP indeed.

Madame Enfer said...

Very sad as we approach his the first anniversary of his passing. He was a really marvelous presence and full of humanity which he projected with ease.

I never knew he was in Tales of the Crypt, apparently it was the episode Til Death Do We Part but I just watched that and didn't spot him at all. Do you know if that's an erroneous credit?

Terence Towles Canote said...

I'm not sure if it is an erroneous credit or not. I'd have to watch "Til Death Do We Part" again sometime. IMDB gives him credit for playing Dr. Nevel in the episode.