Peter O'Toole, a renowned and prolific Irish actor best known for his titular role in Lawrence of Arabia, has died after battling a long sickness. He was 81.
Just last year, O'Toole announced that he would retire from acting – he had contended with stomach cancer in the 1970s – but returned to play palace orator Cornelius Gallus in Katherine of Alexandria. It would prove to be the last performance of a lifetime filled with incredible ones, beginning with that famous biopic of T.E. Lawrence, and in the final tally earning him eight Oscar nominations for films like My Favorite Year, The Stunt Man, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
Though he never did win an Academy Award – he holds the record for most nominations without a victory – he was given an honorary award in 2003 for his career's worth of work.
In 2007, he told NPR about how he fell into the field.
I served with men who'd been blown up in the Atlantic, who'd seen their friends drinking icy bubbles in oil and being machine gunned in the water. And I mentioned that I wasn't particularly satisfied with what I was doing in civilian life, which was working for a newspaper. And the skipper said to me one night, have you any unanswered calls inside you that you don't understand or can't qualify? I said, well, yes, I do. I quite fancy myself either as a poet or an actor. He said, well, if you don't at least give it a try, you'll regret it for the rest of your life.
He was a consummate man of the theatre, known for his love of both the stage and the screen, his dignified Irish brogue giving crackling backbone to the sonnets of Shakespeare that he loved (and knew by heart). He also performed in at least nine Shakespearean plays to general acclaim, though he was famously panned for his 1980 Macbeth.
The man was also famously flamboyant, a raffish charmer who partied and drank with the best of them, including the late Richard Harris, who he counted as a close friend. Once you're done watching this adorable footage of O'Toole and Harris talking about rugby, check out this incredible entrance to his interview for The David Letterman Show in 1995.
The man also loved Ireland. In this paragraph that quite finely summarizes the man in his prime, part of a long Esquire feature penned by the great Gay Talese, he is flying home to Ireland where he sees something that quite catches his eye:
He threw his head back, finished his Scotch, then asked the stewardess for another. ... The plane was filled with businessmen and rosy-cheeked Irishwomen, and also a scattering of priests, one of whom held a cigarette in what seemed to be a long, thin pair of wire tweezers—presumably so he would not touch tobacco with fingers that would later hold the Sacrament.
O’Toole, unaware of the priest, smiled as the stewardess brought his drink. She was a floridly robust little blonde in a tight green tweed uniform.
“Oh, look at that ass,” O’Toole said softly, shaking his head, raising his eyes with approval. “That ass is covered with tweed made in Connnemara, where I was born…Nicest asses in the world, Ireland. Irish-women still are carrying water on their heads and carrying their husbands home from pubs, and such things are the greatest posture builders in the world.”
On Twitter, people remembered the man who filled those characters with the suaveness and the sublimity and the twinkling eyes that were all unmistakably O'Toole's:
In 2011, I asked Peter O'Toole if all his Oscar nominations were an honor. "No, it’s not. It’s a bore. I’m fed up." http://t.co/yACbNxwe5A— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) December 15, 2013
Everyone's going to be talking "Lawrence of Arabia," but also check out O'Toole with Hepburn in "The Lion in Winter." Brilliant performance.— Matt Ford (@HemlockMartinis) December 15, 2013
I fell in love with Peter O'Toole when I was 11. I ran smack into him in a stairwell. He lifted my chin and said, "Child, take a breath."— Emily Dreyfuss (@EmilyDreyfuss) December 15, 2013
So sad to hear of the death of wonderful Peter O'Toole. One of the loveliest people I ever got to work with. I'll never forget his kindness— Claudia Lander (@ClaudieReine) December 15, 2013
"The only exercise I take is walking behind the coffins of friends who took exercise." Rest in peace, Peter O'Toole. pic.twitter.com/aumhoaP89U— Maria Haskins (@MariaHaskins) December 15, 2013
King. http://t.co/CPEbvo57NT— Sean Fennessey (@sean_fennessey) December 15, 2013
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.