Lawrence Of Arabia. Henry II, Tiberius. Anton Ego. No matter how you knew him, Peter O’Toole was a consummate actor and entertainer who brought joy and seemingly effortless craft to generations. So it’s with regret that we must report he died today at the age of 81.
O’Toole’s career spanned both the stage and screens big and small, and he never asked to be famous. Though the legendarily funny man did say this on the subject: “I woke up one morning to find I was famous. I bought a white Rolls-Royce and drove down Sunset Boulevard, wearing dark specs and a white suit, waving like the Queen Mum.” A famous hellraiser in his youthful acting days, he could be found living it up with the likes of Richard Harris, Richard Burton, Michael Caine and Oliver Reed.
Born Peter Seamus O’Toole in County Galway in Connemara, in 1932, he actually grew up in Leeds, though would return to Connemara to live for a long stretch of his later life. After abandoning convent school in his teens, he got a job at the Yorkshire Evening News as a copyboy. Yet acting was his true calling and he joined a local repertory company.
Wartime interrupted his career, and he served in the British Submarine Service, after which he auditioned for, and won a scholarship to, the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art in 1952, attending alongside Harris and Finney. A stint at the Bristol Old Vic followed, and then the Old Vic in London, where he impressed in productions such as Oh My Papa and Hamlet.
TV beckoned before film, but O’Toole gained far wider recognition in 1960 on Disney film Kidnapped and The Savage Innocents. Then The Day They Robbed The Bank Of England brought him to the next level. David Lean chose him to play T.E. Lawrence over Marlon Brando for the role that would define his career, in Lawrence Of Arabia, which was released in 1962 and went on to win seven Oscars. O’Toole was nominated, but it was the first of eight nominations he’d miss out on. When the Academy tried to give him an honorary award in 2002, he turned it down, before accepting the following year. “Always a bridesmaid never a bride,” he said at the ceremony. “My very own Oscar now to be with me till death do us part.”
Other memorable roles included work in The Lion In Winter; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Under Milk Wood; Caligula; The Last Emperor and Bright Young Things, before a whole new range of filmgoers embraced him as cranky critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille. In 2012, he announced his retirement, saying, “It's time for me to chuck in the sponge. To retire from stage and screen. The heart for it has gone out of me; it won't come back.” That said, he will be seen in Katharine Of Alexandria, though it hasn't yet announced a UK release date.
Our respect and admiration for the man will never leave, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.