William Finley: Actor best known for his work with Brian De Palma

William Finley is best-known for his roles in nine of Brian De Palma's films, a disturbing, lanky, goggle-eyed presence, notably the maniacal, disfigured anti-hero of The Phantom of the Paradise.

He appeared in a number of other (usually horror) films, including three by Tobe Hooper.

Finley met De Palma when they were both studying drama at Columbia University but when a fire destroyed all the facilities they temporarily transferred to Sarah Lawrence College to study with Wilford Leach. Finley took the title role in De Palma's first film, Woton's Wake (1962), a short parody of silent horror films that involved much grimacing and grotesque make-up. The following year De Palma, co-directing with Leach, embarked on The Wedding Party, the director's most experimental film, again sometimes evoking silent cinema but with highly disjunctive editing. The large cast included the young Jill Clayburgh and an actor then credited as Robert Denero, with Finley sporting distinctive bottle-bottom spectacles. However, distribution problems meant that it was only released in 1969.

In the meantime De Palma had made the Peeping Tom-inspired Murder à la Mod (1968), a bizarre story of a film-maker forced to make a low-grade porno to support himself and pay for his divorce, while his apartment block is stalked by the strange figure of Otto (Finley). The cheesy psychedelic-rock theme song ("Murder à la Mod, la Mod / Is not so strange / Is not so odd") was written and performed by Finley.

Finley and De Palma's next project was even more outré. The experimental theatre troupe The Performance Group staged Richard Schechner's "happening"-type adaptation of Euripides' The Bacchae with Finley in the title role. Dionysus in 69 (1970) is compiled from two performances and uses split screens. The New York Times praised Finley's performance in a review which perhaps marks the only time the words "De Palma" and "understated" have appeared in the same sentence.

De Palma's breakthrough came with Sisters (1973), a Hitchcockian story of a murder and the separation of Siamese twins, with Finley as the survivor's husband. His next film gave Finley his signature role. Phantom of the Paradise (1974) is a grand guignol rock opera mash-up of Leroux, Faust, Frankenstein, Caligari and Dorian Gray. Though the lead role was written for Finley, studio politics meant that he was only confirmed when the co-star, composer Paul Williams, fearing the film's attack on the record industry would rebound on his career, declined.

Though Williams performed most of the music, Finley chimed in with the song "Faust". The hero's disfigurement came from being caught in a record press and a special effects mix-up mean that Finley only just escaped being crushed for real. Though initially a flop (except, unaccountably, in Winnipeg), it became a cult film and eventually an action figure of Finley was released.

However, from now on, Finley appeared further down the cast list while always making an impression, as in his first credits outside a De Palma film, the TV murder mystery Last Hours Before Morning (1975) and Eaten Alive (1977), the first of three films with Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. By 1978 De Palma could get Kirk Douglas to star in his supernatural thriller The Fury, though there was still a place for Finley, who also took a role in John Huston's comedy drama Wise Blood (1979) and played a geeky experimental pharmacologist in the decidedly odd Simon (1980) a brainwashing-conspiracy comedy.

Finley provided Michael Caine's breathy "female" voice in De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980) and the following year played Marco the Magnificent, a cynical shock-haired magician who "impales" a volunteer – actually his daughter – in Hooper's deranged carnival horror The Funhouse.

In the fantasy revenge film Silent Rage (1982) Finley had a more significant role as one of three doctors who save the life of a murderer using an experimental serum accidentally making him indestructible. In 1983 came Finley's only screenplay, The First Time (1983), a weird teen comedy about a young film student's amorous adventures. In 1985 he co-authored an introduction to race-walking.

Finley's career ended with a series of low-impact projects. Double Negative (1985) is a micro-budget crime drama about a horror film director who, realising his producers are planning an insurance fraud, steals his film to save it from being "lost". There were also a few TV appearances, including uncredited appearances in Sabrina the Teenage Witch (as a werewolf) and Masters of Horror. His final credit was back with De Palma, playing a psychopathic taxidermist in The Black Dahlia (2006).

William Franklin Finley III, actor: born Manhattan 9 September 1940; married 1975 Susan (one son); died Manhattan 14 April 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower