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Albert Finney British actor dead at 82

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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.”

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. 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 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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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

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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.

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.”

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