William Finley, 71, a character actor who appeared in many films by Brian De Palma, most memorably as the title character in the 1974 rock opera

The Phantom of the Paradise

, died Saturday in New York.

Mr. Finley, who became friendly with De Palma when they were students at Columbia University, had an offbeat style that complemented the director's quirky sensibility. He played alongside a young Robert De Niro in the 1969 De Palma comedy, The Wedding Party, and was Margot Kidder's ex-husband in Sisters, De Palma's first thriller, in 1973.

His last movie part was in De Palma's 2006 film noir, The Black Dahlia, based on a famous unsolved 1947 murder case in Los Angeles. In Phantom, a lurid satire that became a cult favorite, Mr. Finley played a composer turned avenger whose face is mangled by a record press, forcing him to wear a helmet to cover his disfigured features. He seeks revenge against a record producer who steals his music, and the film ends in a bloodbath.

During filming, life came perilously close to imitating art, Susan Finley said. The scene in which the composer's face is crushed was filmed at a real pressing plant, and at one point the chocks that were supposed to keep the press from closing snapped under the pressure. Mr. Finley was pulled to safety before it clanged shut. - N.Y. Times News Service