Peter O’Toole, who shot to stardom in his first lead role in the epic Lawrence of Arabia, has passed away. He was 81 years old.
Born in Leeds, and not in Connemara, County Galway in Ireland as some believe; after his military service was complete, O’Toole attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He was in the same class as Albert Finney. While O’Toole holds the record for most Academy Award nominations without a win, at 8, Finney himself has been nominated five times without winning. Ironically, Finney actually turned down the role of T. E. Lawrence, which resulted in O’Toole being cast instead. That 1962 film won the Best Picture Oscar, earned O’Toole the first of his eight nominations for the Best Actor Oscar and O’Toole won the BAFTA award for Best Lead Actor. O’Toole was also nominated for a Golden Globe award as Most Promising Newcomer, but lost that to his co-star, Omar Sharif.
Peter O’Toole’s acting career began on the stage doing Shakespeare and from there he moved into doing stage and television. He stole every scene he was in, in the 1960 movie The Day They Robbed the Bank of England, and a couple of other small roles before his breakthrough in 1962. He followed up with Becket, where his turn as King Henry II earned him his second Best Actor nomination. He earned another playing the same historic figure in The Lion in Winter in 1968. His other Best Actor nominations came in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year and most recently in 2006’s Venus.
Not every film of Peter O’Toole was a masterpiece. 1984’s Supergirl is particularly forgettable, although through no fault of his. Nor was he to blame for 2006’s One Night With the King. But the few misses are totally outweighed by the wonderful movies in his filmography aside from those for which he was nominated as Best Actor. The Last Emperor, How to Steal a Million, The Night of the Generals and The Ruling Class are just some of the wonderful films he was a part of.
A man of conscience who protested both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, O’Toole was also a romantic who had memorized all of Shakespeare’s sonnets. He fathered two daughters with his wife, actress Sian Phillips. The couple divorced in 1979. He also had a son in 1983 with his girlfriend. That son, Lorcan is now an actor himself. He was noted for his excess drinking and that led to his nearly dying in the late 1970s. Alcohol was blamed for what turned out to be cancer of the stomach. Then in 1978 he almost died from a blood disorder.
O’Toole wrote not one, but two memoirs, “Loitering With Intent: The Child” and “Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice.” The first was a New York Times notable book of 1992.
While he never did win that Best Actor Oscar, Peter O’Toole was honored with an honorary Oscar in 2003. He initially told the Academy he didn’t want the honor, saying he was still trying to win an acting award with a performance. But eventually he gave in and accepted his Oscar.