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.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn