Ian Charleson, the Scottish actor who raced his way to stardom playing a runner in the Oscar-winning movie "Chariots of Fire," has died at age 40 of complications from AIDS.

Charleson was suffering from septicemia, a blood disease, and died Saturday, said his agent, Michael Whitehall.English actor Ian McKellen said Charleson was "the most unmannered and unactorish of actors: always truthful, always honest."

McKellen said Sunday night that Charleson was a very talented actor and singer whose Hamlet "cut right through the accretions of the centuries . . . he was a living modern."

He received wide acclaim when he replaced Daniel Day Lewis last fall as Shakespeare's tormented Dane in the production at London's Royal National Theater. Charleson's last performance came just nine weeks ago.

"After nearly four hours on stage he was given a standing ovation," Whitehall said. "It was clear that he was exhausted, but his courage, not only in being on that stage but giving us the performance of his life, left our applause and cheers seeming very inadequate."

John Peter in The Sunday Times of London called Charleson "a princely Hamlet, every inch the king he should have been."

Earlier, the actor won praise in three American shows at the same theater - the musical "Guys and Dolls," playing Sky Masterson; Sam Shepard's "Fool For Love," as the violently passionate Eddie; and Tennessee Williams's "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," as the self-lacerating Brick.

Charleson found his widest public in Hugh Hudson's 1981 hit film "Chariots of Fire," playing Christian runner Eric Liddell, who refuses to run on Sunday because he doesn't believe in competition on the Sabbath.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Other movies included the 1982 Oscar-winning "Gandhi," as a priest who befriends the Indian leader, and the comedy "Car Trouble," opposite his "Fool For Love" co-star, Julie Walters.

The son of a printer, Charleson was born in Edinburgh on Aug. 11, 1949. He won a scholarship to the capital's Royal High School and studied architecture at Edinburgh University.

He turned to acting while at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and began his stage career with a two-year stint at the Young Vic Theater from 1972 to 1974.

The bulk of his stage work was for Britain's two major state-subsidized theaters. His first roles at the National were in "Julius Caesar" and "Volpone" in 1977. Credits at the Royal Shakespeare Company include "Love's Labors Lost" and "The Tempest."