Irish acting legend Peter O’Toole – still perhaps best known for his iconic lead performance in director David Lean’s classic film Lawrence of Arabia – has died. BBC News reports that O’Toole succumbed Saturday to a long illness at London’s Wellington Hospital, which has been confirmed by his agent, Steve Kenis.
O’Toole was the very definition of acting royalty. Nominated for eight Academy Awards for Best Actor – Lawrence of Arabia, Becket (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class (1972), The Stunt Man (1980), My Favorite Year (1982) and Venus (2006) – O’Toole never won an Oscar, but received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 2003, which he initially turned down, stating that he thought he had more time to “win the lovely bugger outright.” During the course of his career, he also won four Golden Globes, a BAFTA award and an Emmy.
O’Toole retired from acting last year at the age 79, saying, “I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.” His daughter, actress Kate O’Toole, released the following statement in the wake of his passing:
“His family are very appreciative and completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us, during this unhappy time. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts.”
Michael Higgins, the President of Ireland and a friend of O’Toole’s since 1968, mourned the actor’s passing, saying: “All of us who knew him in the west will miss his warm humor and generous friendship.”
Peter Seamus Lorcan O’Toole was born on August 2nd in 1932, but he himself could not say just where. His birthplace has variously been stated as Leeds, England, where he grew up, or in Connemara in County Galway in Ireland. O’Toole stated in his autobiography that he had a birth certificate from each country, with the one from Ireland giving him a June 1932 birth-date.
His mother, Constance, was a nurse from Scotland, and his father Patrick worked as a metal plater, a football player and a racehorse bookie. O’Toole worked as a journalist and photographer before serving in the Royal Navy as signaler. He entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on a scholarship in 1952, training alongside some other future British acting greats as Richard Harris (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), Albert Finney (Skyfall) and Alan Bates (Gosford Park).
Peter O’Toole’s most famous performance was also his first big break: O’Toole won the role of T.E. Lawrence after Marlon Brando turned it down. Based on the writings of the legendarily complex Lawrence, who was a flamboyant, ego-centric intelligence officer (and, some say, charlatan) who went on to organize a guerrilla army of Arabs to help destroy the Ottoman Empire during World War I. O’Toole is one of only four actors to receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing the same role twice – he portrayed King Henry II in both Becket and The Lion In Winter, and his eight nominations are the most for any actor without a single win.
Peter O’Toole never stopped working prior to his retirement, with scarcely a year going by without his appearance in something. In the last decade, he lent a sense of majesty to his role as King Priam in the Brad Pitt vehicle Troy, lent his voice to the role of the terrifying food critic Anton Ego in Pixar’s Ratatouille and nearly stole the show, portrayed Pope Paul III in Showtime’s The Tudors, and was nominated for Best Actor for his role as a great but forgotten actor in Venus (2006).
O’Toole’s personal life was plagued by his astonishing propensity for drinking, which is cited as ruining his marriage to Welsh actress Siân Phillips, with whom he had two daughters, Kate and Patricia. His son Lorcan was born to his girlfriend Karen Brown in 1983.
In the ’70s, O’Toole had part of his pancreas and portions of his stomach and intestines removed due to cancer, which was initially misdiagnosed as complications due to his drinking. Although he recovered and kept working, this experience does not seem to have dimmed his fondness for alcohol, of which he once said: “Booze is the most outrageous of drugs, which is why I chose it.”
A mere 800-odd words or so is wildly insufficient to sum up such a magnificent career. Peter O’Toole was simply one of the greatest actors of our time, able to blend gravity, authority and a sense of lighthearted playfulness into an astonishing variety of roles, be it the megalomaniacal movie director (said to be modeled on David Lean) of The Stunt Man, the aging – but still imposing – King Henry II in The Lion in Winter or the insane aristocrat who thinks he’s Jesus Christ in The Ruling Class.
Peter O’Toole is survived by his daughters Kate and Patricia and his son Lorcan. All of us here at Screen Rant wish to express our deepest and most sincere condolences to his friends and family. We have lost one of the greats.
R.I.P. Peter O’Toole: August 2nd (or was it June?) 1932 – December 14th, 2013