FILE - In this Jan. 15, 1970 file photo, British actor Albert Finney waves his cane while playing the title role in “Scrooge,” at Shepperton Studios. British Actor Albert Finney, the Academy Award-nominated star of films from “Tom Jones” to “Skyfall” has died at the age of 82 his family said on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (R. Dear/AP Photo)

British actor Albert Finney dies at 82

Albert Finney was a rare star who managed to avoid the Hollywood limelight for more than five decades

British actor Albert Finney, the Academy Award-nominated star of films from “Tom Jones” to “Skyfall,” has died at the age of 82.

Finney’s family said Friday that he “passed away peacefully after a short illness with those closest to him by his side.”

Finney was a rare star who managed to avoid the Hollywood limelight for more than five decades after bursting to international fame in 1963 in the title role of “Tom Jones.”

The film gained him the first of five Oscar nominations. Others followed for “Murder on the Orient Express,” ”The Dresser,” ”Under the Volcano” and “Erin Brockovich.”

In later years he brought authority to action movies, including the James Bond thriller “Skyfall” and two of the Bourne films.

Displaying the versatility of a virtuoso, Finney portrayed Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, a southern American lawyer, an Irish gangster and an 18th-century rogue, among dozens of other roles over the years. There was no “Albert Finney”-type character that he returned to again and again.

In one of his final roles, as the gruff Scotsman Kincade in “Skyfall,” he shared significant screen time with Daniel Craig as Bond and Judi Dench as M, turning the film’s final scenes into a master class of character acting.

Although Finney rarely discussed his personal life, he told the Manchester Evening News in 2012 that he had been treated for kidney cancer for five years, undergoing surgery and chemotherapy.

He also explained why he had not attended the Academy Awards in Los Angeles even when he was nominated for the film world’s top prize.

“It seems silly to go over there and beg for an award,” he told the paper.

The son of a bookmaker, Finney was born May 9, 1936, and grew up in northern England on the outskirts of Manchester. He took to the stage at an early age, doing a number of school plays and — despite his lack of connections and his working-class roots — earning a place at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

He credited the headmaster of his local school, Eric Simms, for recommending that he attend the renowned drama school.

“He’s the reason I am an actor,” Finney said in 2012.

Finney made his first professional turn at 19 and appeared in several TV movies, including “She Stoops to Conquer” in 1956 and “The Claverdon Road Job” the following year.

Soon some critics were hailing him as “the next Laurence Olivier” — a commanding presence who would light up the British stage. Britain’s pre-eminent theatre critic, Kenneth Tynan, called the young Finney a “smouldering young Spencer Tracy” and warned established star Richard Burton about his prowess. In London, Finney excelled both in Shakespeare’s plays and in more contemporary offerings.

Still, the young man seemed determine not to pursue conventional Hollywood stardom. After an extensive screen test, he turned down the chance to play the title role in director David Lean’s epic “Lawrence of Arabia,” clearing the way for fellow RADA graduate Peter O’Toole to take what became a career-defining role.

But stardom came to Finney anyway in “Tom Jones” where he won over audiences worldwide with his good-natured, funny and sensual portrayal of an 18th-century English rogue.

That was the role that introduced Finney to American audiences, and few would forget the lusty, blue-eyed leading man who helped the film win a Best Picture Oscar. Finney also earned his first Best Actor nomination for his efforts and the smash hit turned him into a Hollywood leading man.

Director Tony Richardson said his goal for “Tom Jones” was simply to produce an enjoyable romp.

“No social significance for once,” he said. “No contemporary problems to lay bare. Just a lot of colorful, sexy fun.”

Finney had the good fortune to receive a healthy percentage of the profits from the surprise hit, giving him financial security while he was still in his 20s.

“This is a man from very humble origins who became rich when he was very young,” said Quentin Falk, author of an unauthorized biography of Finney. “It brought him a lot of side benefits. He’s a man who likes to live as well as to act. He enjoys his fine wine and cigars. He’s his own man, I find that rather admirable.”

The actor maintained a healthy skepticism about the British establishment and even turned down a knighthood when it was offered, declining to become Sir Albert. Finney once said he did not believe in such honours.

“Maybe people in America think being a ‘Sir’ is a big deal,” he said. “But I think we should all be misters together. I think the ‘Sir’ thing slightly perpetuates one of our diseases in England, which is snobbery. And it also helps keep us ‘quaint,’ which I’m not a great fan of.”

Instead of cashing in by taking lucrative film roles after “Tom Jones,” Finney took a long sabbatical, travelling slowly through the United States, Mexico and the Pacific islands, then returned to the London stage to act in Shakespeare productions and other plays. He won wide acclaim and many awards before returning to film in 1967 to co-star with Audrey Hepburn in “Two for the Road.”

This was to be a familiar pattern, with Finney alternating between film work and stage productions in London and New York.

Finney tackled Charles Dickens in “Scrooge” in 1970, then played Agatha Christie’s super-sleuth Hercule Poirot in “Murder on the Orient Express” — earning his second Best Actor nomination— and even played a werewolf hunter in the cult film “Wolfen” in 1981.

He earned more Best Actor Oscar nominations for his roles in the searing marital drama “Shoot the Moon” in 1982, co-starring with Diane Keaton, and “The Dresser” in 1983. He was nominated again in 1984 for his role as a self-destructive alcoholic in director John Huston’s “Under the Volcano.”

Even during this extraordinary run of great roles, and his critically acclaimed television portrayal of the pope, Finney’s life was not chronicled in People Weekly or other magazines, although the British press was fascinated with his marriage to the sultry French film star Anouk Aimee.

He played in a series of smaller, independent films for a number of years before returning to prominence in 2000 as a southern lawyer in the film “Erin Brockovich,” which starred Julia Roberts. The film helped introduce Finney to a new generation of moviegoers, and the chemistry between the aging lawyer and his young, aggressive assistant earned him yet another Oscar nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actor.

His work also helped propel Roberts to her first Best Actress Oscar. Still, Finney declined to attend the Academy Awards ceremony — possibly damaging his chances at future wins by snubbing Hollywood’s elite.

He went on to star in director Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” and portrayed Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, in “The Gathering Storm.”

Finney also tried his hand at directing and producing and played a vital role in sustaining British theatre.

Finney is survived by his third wife, Pene, son Simon and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.

Gregory Katz, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Gas prices spike in northern B.C. ahead of the long weekend

Fuel went up 17 cents overnight in Prince Rupert

Rocking Through The Ages with grads of 2019

Barriere Secondary’s Class of 2019 presented their show ‘Rocking Through The Ages’… Continue reading

Explore the true meaning of Easter

Bunnies and baskets, chocolates and candies. It’s that time of year when… Continue reading

Workshop coming on how to apply for funding and attract volunteers for your non-profit

One of the biggest challenges to community not-for-profits is the ability to… Continue reading

Did you know our planet is constantly under attack?

The planet is comprised of a remarkable set of organisms that, when… Continue reading

It was no Kentucky Derby: B.C. girls host foot-long snail race

Two Grade 3 students in White Rock put four snails to the test in a hotly-contested street race

Man airlifted to hospital after apparent hunting incident in East Kootenay

The man was in stable condition when he was flown out of Fairmont Hot Springs to a Calgary hospital

Police probe eight fires set at B.C. elementary school

Nanaimo RCMP say fires appear to have been set intentionally

Undercover cops don’t need warrant to email, text suspected child lurers: court

High court decision came Thursday in the case of Sean Patrick Mills of Newfoundland

Whitecaps fans stage walkout over club’s response to allegations against B.C. coach

Soccer coach has been suspended by Coastal FC since February

Three climbers presumed dead after avalanche in Banff National Park

One of the men is American and the other two are from Europe, according to officials

VIDEO: Trump tried to seize control of Mueller probe, report says

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday

BC Ferries to pilot selling beer and wine on select sailings

Drinks from select B.C. breweries and VQA wineries will be available on the Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route

Most Read