LONDON (AP) — Albert Finney, one of the most respected and versatile actors of his generation and the star of films as diverse as “Tom Jones” and “Skyfall,” has died at 82.
From his early days as a strikingly handsome and magnetic screen presence to his closing acts as a brilliant character actor, Finney was a British treasure known for charismatic work on both stage and screen.
Finney’s family said Friday that he “passed away peacefully after a short illness with those closest to him by his side.” He died Thursday from a chest infection at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, a cancer
Finney burst to international fame in 1963 in the title role of “Tom Jones,” playing a lusty rogue who captivated audience with his charming,
He excelled in many other roles, including the 1960 drama “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.”
“Tom Jones” gained him the first of five Oscar nominations. Others followed for “Murder on the Orient Express,” ‘’The Dresser,” ‘’Under the Volcano” and “Erin Brockovich.” Each time he fell short.
In later years he brought authority to bid-budget and high-grossing action movies, including the James Bond thriller “Skyfall” and two of the Bourne films. He also won hearts as Daddy Warbucks in “Annie.”
He played an array of roles, including Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, a southern American lawyer, and an Irish gangster. 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.
“The world has lost a giant,” Craig said.
Although Finney rarely discussed his personal life, he said in 2012 that he had been treated for kidney cancer for five years.
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 earning a place at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Finney made his first professional turn at 19 and appeared in several TV movies. Soon, some critics were hailing him as “the next Laurence Olivier” — a commanding presence who would light up the British stage. In London, Finney excelled in Shakespeare’s plays as well as more contemporary offerings.
Still, he seemed determined not to pursue conventional Hollywood stardom. He turned down the chance to play the title role in director David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” clearing the way for fellow RADA graduate Peter O’Toole to take the career-defining role.
But stardom came to Finney anyway in “Tom Jones,” the role that introduced Finney to American audiences. Few would forget the sensual blue-eyed leading man who helped the film win a Best Picture Oscar.
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.
The actor maintained a healthy skepticism about the British establishment and turned down a knighthood when it was offered, declining to become Sir Albert.
“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.”
Instead of cashing in after “Tom Jones,” Finney took a sabbatical, traveling through the U.S., Mexico and the Pacific islands, then returned to the London stage to act in Shakespeare productions and other plays. He won wide acclaim before returning to film in 1967 to co-star with Audrey Hepburn in “Two for the Road.”
Finney tackled Dickens in “Scrooge” in 1970, then played Agatha Christie’s sleuth Hercule Poirot in “Murder on the Orient Express” and even played a werewolf hunter in the cult film “Wolfen” in 1981.
In 1983, he reunited with a peer from the “angry young man” movement, Tom Courtenay, in “The Dresser,” which garnered both Oscar nods.
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 “Erin Brockovich,” which won Julia Roberts her first Academy Award.
Finney also tried his hand at directing and producing and played a vital role in sustaining British theater.
The Old Vic theater said his “performances in plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov and other iconic playwrights throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s stand apart as some of the greatest in our 200-year history.”
Finney is survived by his third wife, Pene Delmage, son Simon and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements weren’t immediately known.