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Jon Finch

Actor and Hitchcock star;

Born: March 2, 1942; Died: December 28, 2012.

Jon Finch, who has died aged 70, was for a short while one of British cinema's biggest stars, playing the title role in Roman Polanski's controversial, blood-soaked version of Macbeth in 1971 and the murder suspect in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy the following year.

The fact that Finch did not maintain that success in later years had much to do with his wariness of stardom and his self-professed lack of ambition. He reputedly turned down the chance to take over as James Bond when Sean Connery quit for the second time.

Finch seemed as happy in television and low-budget European films as he did rubbing shoulders with such Hollywood legends as Bette Davis and David Niven in Death on the Nile (1978).

"I never wanted to be a big star," he said. "I usually do one film a year, so I always have enough money to enjoy myself and keep myself out of the public eye. It's a very pleasant life." Although he eschewed celebrity status, he enjoyed the fast life – driving racing cars as a hobby.

The son of a banker, he was born in Caterham, Surrey, in 1942. He first acted in school and served in the Parachute Regiment and then as an SAS reservist, while pursuing a career in acting.

In 1963 he came to the King's Theatre in Edinburgh in a touring production of a play called From This Hill, starring Sarah Churchill, Winston's Churchill's daughter.

He appeared in Crossroads and Z-Cars in the mid-1960s, had a starring role in the science-fiction series Counterstrike (1969) and featured in the Hammer films The Vampire Lovers and The Horror of Frankenstein (both 1970).

But it was Macbeth that catapulted him into the national consciousness. Fifteen months earlier Polanski's heavily-pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, had been slaughtered in their Los Angeles villa by the deranged disciples of Charles Manson. Polanski's take on the Scottish Play, with its treachery, madness and the slaughter of a family in their own home, reflected Polanski's own torment. His version was extremely violent, it included a nude sleep-walking scene and it took Shakespeare to an audience more attuned to James Bond and spaghetti westerns. Although the story is set in Scotland, Polanski chose instead to film it in England (Northumberland and Shepperton Studios) and Wales (Snowdonia).

Around the same time Finch played a gay Scotsman in another controversial movie – Sunday Bloody Sunday, one of the first mainstream movies to address the subject of homosexuality. Peter Finch (no relation) played the main character, who has had a casual relationship with Jon Finch. The latter played his role with a broad Scottish accent, with just a hint of Liverpudlian.

Darkly handsome, with classic good looks and a brooding intensity, Finch could be hero or villain or suitably ambiguous, a quality exploited by Hitchcock in Frenzy.

His other films include Lady Caroline Lamb (1973), The Final Programme (1973) and Breaking Glass (1980). On TV he played Bolingbroke, who becomes King Henry IV, in the prestigious BBC adaptations of King Richard II (1978) and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (1979).

Finch was cast as the crewman Kane, the character who has a baby alien burst out of his chest, in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), but John Hurt took over after Finch fell ill. Shortly beforehand Finch had discovered he had diabetes. Finch finally got to work with Scott when he played the Patriarch of Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), though in recent years he worked mainly in television, usually appearing in guest roles. He played a villain in the pilot episode of New Tricks (2005).

In the 1980s he had been married to the actress Catriona MacColl. The marriage ended in divorce. Latterly he lived alone in Hastings and was found dead in his flat after friends and family became concerned that they had not heard from him over Christmas. He is survived by a daughter.

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