Winslow Leach Forever

Yesterday I was moving house and found a scrap of paper that someone had handed to me in December at the New Beverly. I had believed it had been lost, but instead it had been in a jacket along with a bunch of receipts since before Christmas. I was glad I found it.

On it was William Finley’s e-mail, the great character actor and the star of one of my favourite movies, Brian De Palma’s ‘Phantom Of The Paradise’.

An audience member gave it to me at one of my Wright Stuff shows and said he was a family friend of the Finleys. He told me that William was a fan of my work and especially loved the ‘Phantom’ references in ‘Scott Pilgrim’. That was great to hear, especially since I screened ‘Phantom’ at my very first Wright Stuff double with Paul Williams back in 2007.

I felt a little odd e-mailing him somewhat out of the blue, but I realised I should write, before I lost the scrap of paper forever in my move.

This was my mail.

From: Edgar Wright
Sent: Saturday, April 14, 2012 2:42 PM
Subject: From Edgar Wright

Dear Mister Finley,

A friend of yours gave me your e-mail and said to drop you a line. I trust this is okay.

I am a huge fan, especially of ‘Phantom’ as I am sure you know.

Hope all is well.

Lovely to meet you on here.


And the reply just over an hour later.

Subject: Re: From Edgar Wright
Date: 14 April 2012 15:56:40 PDT
To: Edgar Wright

Dearest Edgar,

Susan Finley here, William’s wife. I guess you must have had a very strong
connection to William. He was ill and just died today at 11:00AM.

William was a huge fan of yours and loved the Phantom references in your films.
Especially “Scott Pilgrim.” Our son Dashiell, who is just graduating NYU film and his dad
have been passionate fans since “Shaun of the Dead.”

Wish I could have read him your e-mail.

All the best,

I was, and remain, speechless and heartbroken.

I first saw William Finley in ‘Phantom Of The Paradise’ when I was 12 on British television. It made an indelible mark on me, not least because of Finley’s amazing twin performance as Winslow Leach and the Phantom. It was one of those unique characterisations that absolutely embodies the spirit of the movie.

As well as ‘Phantom’, Finley was also great in a number of other De Palma films, the cult classic ‘Sisters’, the very underrated ‘The Fury’ and most recently in ‘The Black Dahlia’. I actually clapped with delight when I saw him in the latter.

He also provided (uncredited) the voice of ‘Bobbi’ in De Palma’s masterpiece ‘Dressed To Kill’. Anyone who has seen that movie knows just what a truly great part that was.

Other roles included Marshall Brickman’s underseen and underrated comedy ‘Simon’ with Alan Arkin and also grindhouse epics like Tobe Hooper’s ‘Eaten Alive’ and the bonkers ‘Silent Rage’ (also referred to in ‘Hot Fuzz’).

I always wondered if anyone caught the nods to ‘Phantom Of The Paradise’ in my movies and as heartbroken as I am to realise I will never meet him, I am glad he was the person that did.

My thoughts and love go out to the Finley family and I hope that his son Dashiell gets to work on as many weird and wonderful films as his father.

If you’ve never seen ‘Phantom Of The Paradise’, you can pay no better tribute to the great man by watching it tonight.

Here, from that movie, is William Finley singing ‘Faust’ by Paul Williams.

Rest in peace William Finley. Love live Winslow Leach.

E-mails reprinted with permission of Susan Finley.

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  • Pnut

    This is one of my all time favorite films. May his family be comforted by the truth of his touching so many lives and may he forever be at peace.

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  • Tracy

    I just heard the horrible news just now.  I sit here with tears streaming down my face, and can’t even think straight.

  • Nursix

    RIP WILLIAM.. Watch my tribute to the best movie ever:

  • Madamehell

    I only just found out. I only know him from Phantom, but me and my sister are big Phantom fans and this makes me sad. I’m trying to get Phantom screened at our local cult house.

  •  HI!

      “Pleasure” to meet the guy behind the guy who was torturing poor Winslow!  I do remember reading your name in the credits. Wacky as it sounds, the music at the end of the movie had most of the audience waiting til it was completely over so it’s a safe bet that there are a LOT of Winnipeggers and PHANS who know more about POTP production crew than just about any other movie!

       I got the sad news from a member of the Phantompalooza crew, who told us about the event!  Despite initial misgivings (like possibly ending up being held captive, a la Patty and Selma’s ‘capture’ of McGiver’s Richard Dean Anderson~SIMPSON’S)  William was so amazed at the reception for a movie he made 30 years earlier that he encouraged the crew to do a full out cast reunion.

       One of the things about Winslow that people liked is that it was easy to identify with that sense of HOPEFUL Naivete. You put your heart into a book or body of music or whatever, and you assume that those people want you to succeed as much as you do. Would to God that were true.  Nowadays, I am careful to cover my bases just because that’s what Winslow SHOULD HAVE done. Then again, if he had, there wouldn’t have been much of a movie.

        Good character actors are in short supply, but William was one of them, for sure, as well as being a genuinely nice guy and it was an HONOR to get to say thanks for the impact that he and Winslow made on me.

  • Chuck

    I saw Phantom of the Paradise when I was a kid, in the theater with a friend.  Back then I viewed it as a cool rock horror film.  I remember how fun the guitar stabbings were or Swans melting face or just the idea of Winslow getting his teeth pulled.  Later I finally have been able to watch the film again when FX has aired it.  As an adult I love the humor, I love the music, great film on of my faves for sure.  Rest in peace Mr. Finley.

  • Jim Tanenbaum, C.A.S.

    A friend
    just sent me the link to this blog. I was the production sound mixer
    (recordist) on “PotP”. William Finley was an incredible person as well
    as a talented actor and singer. Conditions on the set were sometimes less than ideal, as
    the pressure mounted from having to jump from L.A. to Dallas to N.Y.C. (in the dead of
    winter) and running more and more over schedule, but Bill was always professional,
    pleasant, and even cheerful (most of the time). When Rolf Miller, our makeup
    man, had to leave the set early and we were short-handed, Bill graciously put up with my
    awkward attempts to apply the liquid smoke to his head (after his encounter
    with the record press) without blinding him or really disfiguring his face.

    He’s singing for the angels now.

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  • Gareth

    I was just watching Dionysus 69 on the Ubu website, and thought I recognised the face and voice of the young man who did indeed turn out to be William Finley – and from there discovered that he had died only a couple of weeks ago.

    Phantom of the Paradise was a unique and superb movie with a great score and so many great performances, not least from William Finley.  In the scheme of things, a relatively unknown actor.  But for all who have come across his work, an infinitely memorable one.

    He will be missed. His work lives on.  My condolences to his wife and son.

    Gareth Brown

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  • Edgar– I’m so happy that I was able to connect you with Finley, even posthumously. After I passed that slip of paper along to you, Bill wrote to me immediately and said how flattered he was and that he looked forward to hearing from you. The weirdest part is that I had told him that if I crossed paths with Guillermo Del Toro that I would extend the same courtesy. In my last email from Bill, he said that he hoped he would someday hear from Del Toro, too.
    Bill’s memorial service was deeply moving. Jessica and Gerrit spoke reverently of him, as did his other associates, friends, and family, myself included. On the way to the service, it suddenly hit me that Bill was like a ten-year-old kid who loved to celebrate Halloween 365 days a year: he loved to wear monster make-up, to scare people in a good-natured way, and he really GOT the macabre.
    Thank you for reaching out to the Finleys. Your message to them meant a great deal at a really difficult time.  

    • I forgot to ask…I think….how did you end up meeting William?

  • Brendacourchene

    I,m form Winnipeg ,where the Phantompoolaz took place. I,m so sorry I missed them because of work > < I rented the Phantom movie for my  daughter when she was 13 and she an her friends an cousins all fell in love with it .They are all saddened by his passing too.They have been posting tributes in thier FB pages.. I want to say thank you William for your talent and I hope your family the best in the days ahead.

  • Profpieface

    So sorry you just missed him. Bet you’d have become firm friends.

    Oddly, having bought it months ago, I just got Phantom of the Paradise out of a pile on Saturday. I will definitely have to watch it this week.

  • Sezhoo

    Thank you thank you thank you for a tribute that in its brevity, caught the soul of a pre-teen experience that has cast its neon glam glow over all that came after. RIP indeed.

  • Philmarlowe73

    he’s also really really really great as the magician in the great movie “the funhouse” by tobe hooper

  • I love this movie so much. He will be missed.

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  • Ian

    This is such sad news. I first saw Phantom of the Paradise in a double bill with The Rocky Horror Show back in 76 (I think it was). It has been my all time favourite movie ever since. Rest in peace (and dream) Bill.

  • Kisskinski

    I absolutely adored William Finley.  I am heartbroken that we lost this wonderful man.

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  • Cam26

    My favorite actor. Ever. My favorite film. Ever. Absolutely devastated right now.

  • Joanna L. Oznowicz-Davis

      First off, Edgar, thanks for the post and the tribute!! 

       I’m from Winnipeg, and have scads of phantom related memories, dating from the first time I ever saw the movie (with my mom, sister and brother), and SWORE up and down, I would NEVER see it again!  That wedding scene grossed me out!  I have NO idea how many times I’ve seen it since but 50 is a nice round number that is Semi-accurate.

       I remember the day I got the news of the event (Phan Pal 1) I was taking a computer course and when I read the email, I just about scared the poor computer tech to death, but I promise you, I have no recollection of making any noise. Only that I must’ve looked like Wilma Flintstone on a bender….acting all crazy cartoonish and rushing to tell the first people I could find so it would be real! I was going to meet WINSLOW LEACH!!!!  And heaven help the terrorist who tries to sabotage that event! 

      Well, I did meet William Finley and Gerrit Graham, who were floored at the response they got!  BUT the SINGLE most important moment, for me, was when I got to talk to William, got his autograph on both books of Goethe’s Faust, and then hugged him and said Thank You. NOT just for the autograph, either, but for being such a huge inspiration to so many!  I love the replies on this wall.

        Best thoughts going out to family William’s  and close friends!

  • Kelly Borushynski

    I will be watching the Phantom of the Paradise tonight for sure. It’s a huge hit here in Winnipeg . Phantompalooza

  • Deecrasher

    A very sad day for us Phantom followers!!!  RIP William  🙁

  • I’m not familiar with William’s works but reading this I can see I’d enjoy them. What tragic timing for that e-mail, but what a lovely reply from Susan at what must be such a difficult time. RIP William, condolences to his family and good luck to those inspired to bring films to life for reasons greater than financial profit.

  • Carey

    How very sad indeed. I love ‘Phantom, and Mr. Finley was wonderful in it.

    I have a ‘Phantom’ “action figure” in a box by my desk…the one w/ the plunger.I still cry when, as the Phantom, he sees Phoenix in bed with Swan at the mansion.The heartbreak, the sadness…I feel it now as I type this.

    May he rest in peace, and dream….

  • Just saw him at BAM in April of last year in excellent spirits at a screening of Phantom with producer Ed Pressman. Amazing how quickly life can change. He loved the packed house and how much his performance meant to so many people. Thanks for this tribute, Edgar.

  • Joe Netherworld

    sad news to stumble upon…. I am a huge Phantom fan….. I even own one of the repro helmets pulled from the movie prop…. sad but in another way glad to hear all the great comments from those moved by William Finley

    • Dan

      Want to sell THE PHANTOM HELMET?

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  • Sailorcartman1

    Celebrity deaths usually do not affect me. However, The passing of William affects me as deeply as the passing of Joey Ramone did. I have seen Scott Pilgrim once and enjoyed it thouroughly. I’ve been meaning to watch it again. Now, I have to. I did not catch the references you speak of to Phantom in my first screening, which shocks me as I am a MASSIVE Phantom fan. I am glad to see that someone with your status in modern cinema is keeping the flame of Phantom and William Finley alive. The ne generation need to see this film. It is one of the best films ever made. Tahnk you Edgar, for keeping both alive with your tribute.

  • She’s right, there was a connection… Too bad. So sorry. Speechless…

  • Gdignazio

    As a proud committee member of Phantompalooza I and II, I was and am devastated to learn of Bill’s transition … but have many fond memories of him finally getting his due here in Winnipeg and getting treated like a rock star, he loved it!  The experience of meeting him and Susan and Dash was something I will never forget and will never forget when Bill was interviewed during P1, when he sadi “well we have to do another one, only this time, with the entire cast!” It was like God speaking and so of course the Committee did just what Bill wanted, we brought the entire Phantom cast to Winnipeg, these experiences are right up there with the birth of my 3 precious children. Rock on Bill, we are loved by many souls

    Gloria Dignazio

  • Gdignazio

    As founder of Phantompalooza I here in Winnipeg, MB back in 2005, and committee member of Phantompalooza II wherein the entire cast of the movie came here to our fair city, I was and am devastated to hear this sad news.  But thinking back to meeting Bill and his wife and son and thinking of all the memories of when he was here and how we all got to see him finally get his dues for his what should have been an Academy Award winning performance in Phantom of the Paradise, well it’s right up there with the birth of my 3 precious children.  My twin brother Eric and I watched the movie … again, yesterday in honour of William Finley.  Rock on Bill, we love you

    Gloria Dignazio

  • GBE

    He attended a screening of Phantom last year at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s DePalma retrospective and my friends and I were lucky enough to attend the sold out show. He and Ed Pressman answered questions and it was clear that he had a lot of love for the film and was proud to see that everyone was so into it.  A cinema highlight of my year.  He will be missed!

  • This truly breaks my heart.  And now if something happens to Jessica Harper I don’t know what I will do…

  • Marsha Lieberman

    remembering some of the best performances of all time, inspiring to a dancer. (SLC 1975)

  • I was so blown away when I opened up Zite to see your story on The Phantom of the Paradise only to be completely saddened immediately at the news. This was my favorite movie as a kid (my grandma would take me to see it regularly at the theater as it played in our city for over a year straight). I attended Phantompalooza in our city in 2005 and was able to see most of the cast all together again (Paul Williams and Jessica Harper attended the following year and I was absent unfortunately). William Finley was hilarious and charming and I loved listening to him share his stories from that time. I have introduced many young people to this incredible movie/musical over the years and it will always have a special place in my heart, since it fascinated/terrified me as a young child. The Leach/Phantom are such tragic character(s) that I am amazed that many so-called horror fans have never seen this fantastic retelling of Phantom of the Opera. My thoughts go to his family and his fans.

    On a personal note to Edgar, I am completely ashamed that I, as a full-functioning adult (my opinion, not my wife’s), watched Scott Pilgrim (which was fantastic) and did not catch the nods to Phantom. But there was so many cool things to see in that film, I guess repeated viewings are necessary….

  • My favorite musical film. RIP William 🙁

  • Paul Bunnell

    I screened my 16mm print of “Phantom of the Paradise” last night in memory of William Finley.

  • retrogaming

    “Old emotions may they rest in peace and dream, dream a bunch of friends
    Rest in peace, and dream, dream it never ends”

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  • Damn. Going to have to get my hands on the French Bluray.

  •  Sad stuff. Phantom is a top five for me.

  • VBartilucci

    I think I speak for all of when I say “Fuck fuck Fukkity FUCK fuck fuck”.

  • Heartbreaking to hear of of his passing. I adore his performance “Phantom” so much.

  • Wow this is just heartbreaking. So sad to hear this…loved his performance in “Phantom” as well. 

  • This is the part where I finally break down crying. I’ve been trying not to all day. 🙁

  • This is the part where I finally break down crying.

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  • AmberGrindstaff

    🙁  I hope Finley read your letter in heaven

    Rest Peacefully William Finley

  • Oh I am so saddened by his passing, I LOVE Phantom of Paradise.. 

  • Ann Rtist

    Truly sad to read.