Tributes from peers and admirers are pouring in today for celebrated English stage, screen and television actor Frank Finlay, who died this weekend in his Weybridge, Surrey home from heart failure following a short illness. He was 89. “We are very saddened to announce that Frank died today 30 January 2016 at home surrounded by his family,” read a message posted to his official site. “He was a fine actor and will be very much missed by his friends and family.”
An actor whose career spanned more than 61 years, Finlay was best remembered for his Oscar-nominated turn as Iago in the 1965 film adaptation of Othello, and for portraying Porthos in director Richard Lester’s trilogy of films based on Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers novels.
Born in Farnworth, Lancashire in 1926, Finlay was the son of a butcher and did himself enter the trade as a young man, before turning to acting in his mid 20s. He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art soon after, and made his debut on the West End stage at 31. His break into stardom came in 1965 when he costarred opposite Sir Lawrence Olivier in John Dexter’s acclaimed production of Othello. Though critics reacted cooly to his portrayal of Iago, the two would reprise their roles in the film adaptation; this time Finlay’s performance was widely praised, culminating in his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
In film, Finlay had a long and varied career, moving often from exploitation to prestige and back again. Among his most noteworthy roles are the aforementioned Three Musketeers trilogy, playing the villain in Shaft in Africa, the adventure film The Wild Geese alongside Roger Moore, inspector Lestrade in two Sherlock Holmes films, A Study in Terror, (1965) and Murder by Decree (1979), and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist.
Finlay also made frequent television appearances. He appeared in the title role in 1971 BBC film Casanova. He portrayed Van Helsing in the BBC’s Count Dracula, and Sancho Panza in The Adventures of Don Quixote (1973). In 1984 we appeared as the ghost of Bob Marley in A Christmas Carol (starring George C. Scott). He also appeared in episodes of Black Adder, played Voltaire in the BBC production of Candide, and guested on an episode of the British fantasy series Merlin.