Sunday, 15 December 2013

Peter O'Toole: Lawrence Of Arabia star dies aged 81

Actor Peter O'Toole, who took the film world by storm as the eponymous hero in Sir David Lean's 1962 film classic Lawrence Of Arabia, died on Saturday aged 81, his agent has said.

He was being treated at London's Wellington hospital after a long illness, his agent added.

O'Toole's daughter Kate said the family was overwhelmed "by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us".

He received an honorary Oscar in 2003, having initially turned it down.

In a letter the actor asked the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences to delay it until he was 80, saying he was "still in the game and might win the bugger outright".

But when he finally clasped his statuette, he said: "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot."

O'Toole's agent said he was "one of a kind in the very best sense and a giant in his field".

Film critic Barry Norman described him as a "true movie star", who had "tremendous charisma".

Irish President Michael D Higgins added: "Ireland, and the world, has lost one of the giants of film and theatre.

"I was privileged to know him as a friend since 1969. I spent part of 1979 in Clifden where we met almost daily and all of us who knew him in the West will miss his warm humour and generous friendship."

Broadcaster Michael Parkinson told Sky News it was hard to be too sad about the news of his passing, and smiled as he said: "Peter didn't leave much of life unlived, did he?"

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "My thoughts are with Peter O'Toole's family and friends. His performance in my favourite film, Lawrence Of Arabia, was stunning."

He was born in 1932, though where, exactly, remained a mystery, even to O'Toole himself.

He claimed to have two birth certificates. One stated that he was born in Ireland, one in England, but he was certainly brought up in Leeds in a Yorkshire Irish family.

His father, Captain Pat, was a bookmaker – a colourful character, he was the first of many to grace O'Toole's remarkable life.

O'Toole began his acting career as an exciting young talent on the British stage and his Hamlet in 1955 at the Bristol Old Vic, was critically acclaimed.

He later said his studies at Rada under a scholarship began "quite by chance... not out of burning ambition but because of all the wonderful-looking birds".

"I hitched to London on a lorry, looking for adventure. I was dropped at Euston Station and was trying to find a hostel. I passed the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and walked in just to case the joint."

He hit international stardom when Sir David cast him as British adventurer T E Lawrence, the British World War I soldier and scholar who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks. With his mesmeric blue eyes and mercurial manner, the role seemed tailor-made for the then 30 year old actor and thrust him into the superstar bracket, where he was to remain for the rest of his life.
Playwright Noel Coward once said that if O'Toole had been any prettier, they would have had to call the film "Florence Of Arabia".
Lawrence Of Arabia earned him the first of eight Oscar nominations, with his second coming for 1964's Becket, in which he played King Henry II to Richard Burton's Thomas Becket.

Burton and O'Toole's shared love of drinking garnered many headlines along with their performances.
O'Toole played Henry again in 1968 in The Lion In Winter, for which he received his third Oscar nod, opposite Katharine Hepburn.

His five other nominations were for Goodbye, Mr Chips (1968), The Ruling Class (1971), The Stunt Man (1980), My Favorite Year (1982) and finally for Venus (2006).

Other performances included leading Shakespearean parts, comic roles in adaptations of PG Wodehouse and his famed starring role in Keith Waterhouse's stage play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell.

O'Toole also had a reputation for riotous behaviour following bouts of drinking, but in the mid 1970s he was diagnosed with pancreatitis and was warned by medics that more alcohol would prove fatal.

He had yards of his intestinal tubing – "most of my plumbing" – removed and he gave up drinking.

"If you can't do something willingly and joyfully, then don't do it,'' he once said. "If you give up drinking, don't go moaning about it; go back on the bottle. Do. As. Thou. Wilt."

Last July, after a career spanning 50 years and at the age of 79, O'Toole said he was retiring from the stage and screen.

"I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell," he said.

"The heart for it has gone out of me. It won't come back".

However, last month it was announced he was being lined up for a role as a Roman orator in Katherine of Alexandria, a film scheduled for release next year.

O'Toole was a man of great wit and intellect. The breadth of his ability, on stage and screen, in comedy and drama and, latterly, as a writer, was matched by the depth of his commitment to his work.

A turbulent private life was mirrored by performances of real feeling. He was never afraid to take risks with his work and he was dismissive of those who went for the soft option.

In an early poem, Peter O'Toole vowed to "stir the smooth sands of monotony". He undoubtedly managed this.

Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.

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