Peter O’Toole, star of Lawrence of Arabia, dies at 81

| | Updated on: Dec 16, 2013

Peter O’Toole, the actor who brought Lawrence of Arabia to the big screen, has died at the age of 81, his agent said on Sunday.

O’Toole died Saturday in a London hospital after a long illness, Steve Kenis said.

He began his acting career on the British stage and was celebrated for portrayals that ranged from Shakespeare to comedy. He earned the first of his eight Oscar nominations and shot to international fame with Lawrence of Arabia in 1962.

His acting in the David Lean classic about TE Lawrence, a British soldier who led an Arab uprising against Ottoman rule, won critical acclaim, and his piercing blue eyes and handsome face staring out from his white headdress and the desert sands made him a star.

His final Oscar nod was in 2006 for Venus, but he never won an Academy Award. He did, however, set a record for the most nominations for Hollywood’s top prize without a win.

He was presented an honorary Oscar in 2003 for his lifetime of work, after initially rejecting it, saying that at 70, he was still too young for the honour, was “still in the game” and “might win the lovely bugger outright.” He also received Oscar nominations for 'Goodbye, Mr Chips', 'The Lion in Winter', 'My Favourite Year', 'Becket', 'The Ruling Class', and 'The Stunt Man'.

He was perhaps equally well known for his drinking and carousing, and critics of his lifestyle complained that he could have been a far greater actor had he led a more temperate life, but O’Toole was unrepentant.

“Booze is the most outrageous of drugs, which is why I chose it,” he said.

O’Toole was born to an Irish bookmaker in 1932. He believed his birthdate was August 2, but his birthplace was not definitively known, being either in Connemara, Ireland or Leeds, England, where he grew up.

He predicted his future when he wrote as he was entering adulthood, “I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony.” He served in the navy, then hitched a ride to London, where he stumbled across the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, accepting a scholarship there “because of all the wonderful-looking birds.” He was booed in his West End debut in 1957, but two years later, he won Best Actor of the Year for the Long and the Short and the Tall.

He went on to join the Shakespeare Memorial Company, take on roles from George Bernard Shaw to Samuel Beckett and Anton Chekhov and land Lawrence of Arabia.

O’Toole’s daughter and fellow actor Kate O’Toole said in a statement on Sunday, “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.”

She said a memorial would be planned “filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished.” Her father finally retired from acting last year, saying, “It is time for me to chuck in the sponge... The heart for it has gone out of me: it won’t come back.”

Published on December 16, 2013

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