Peter Finchs sombre reality of death catching him: Sometimes stare at my coffin

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Alongside fellow Oscar winner, and screen Goddess, Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch this afternoon stars in the 1959 classic The Nun’s Story. Airing on BBC Two from 12.20pm, the eight-time Academy Award nominated film follows a young Belgian girl who struggles to understand how fellow convent attendees kept strong despite the horrors of World War Two unfolding in front of them. It was among Hepburn’s biggest commercial films, earning her a Best Actress nod at that year’s Oscars, and is often cited as her favourite in which she starred.

While no nomination was made for British actor Finch, it helped catapult him into international stardom, and he would soon become one of Hollywood’s most sought after stars.

Finch eventually bagged himself an Academy Award in 1976 for his character in Network, which earned him the coveted Best Actor gong.

Sadly, Finch made history that night as he became the first actor to claim the title posthumously.

His death came a day after he had appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where he had been promoting Network.

He had a heart attack in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel, aged just 60, being interred following his death in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

News of his death rocked Hollywood, yet Finch himself had previously spoken openly about what he expected during an interview with the Los Angeles Times earlier that year.

He noted how “we all say we’re going to quit occasionally” and described how he wished in his career he had “been more adventurous”.

The actor continued: “But it’s a fascinating and not ignoble profession.

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“No one lives more lives than the actor. Movie making is like geometry and I hated maths. But this kind of jigsaw I relish.

“When I played Lord Nelson I worked the poop deck in his uniform. I got extraordinary shivers.

“Sometimes I felt like I was staring at my own coffin. I touched that character. There lies the madness. You can’t fake it.”

In Academy Award history, Finch is joined by Australian actor Heath Ledger as the only actors to receive an acting award after they have passed away.

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As well as his Oscar win, Finch was also nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards in 1971 for his performance in Sunday Bloody Sunday.

The star was similarly awarded a Golden Globe and BAFTA following his death.

Away from the camera, Finch was married three times, had a string of affairs, including reportedly with Welsh songstress Shirley Bassey.

Chatter regarding their supposed relationship grew intense, and Bassey herself was forced to address the claims, according to a throwback edition of Jet magazine.

Published in 1964, Bassey reportedly tells the public she wasn’t “walled in” to one relationship.

Under an article headed “No wedding for Shirley Bassey, Peter Finch”, the singer said: “It’s like I can’t sing to one man.

“I sing to everybody.

“I don’t want to be walled in. I am a terribly selfish person, and until I overcome that selfishness I’d make a lousy partner for anyone.

“It simply wouldn’t work out. Just now, I am not ready for marriage to anyone. I feel I have to be free.”

The archive report noted how Bassey had just returned from a five-day stay with Finch in Israel.

The Nun’s Story airs on BBC Two from 12.20pm today.

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