Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Peter O'Toole: Eight-time Oscar nominee dies at age of 81

Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia
Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia
Peter O'Toole receives his honourary Oscar in 2003

Hell-raising Irish actor Peter O'Toole, most famous for his leading role in classic film Lawrence of Arabia, has died at the age of 81.

The acclaimed leading man, who received an honorary Academy Award in 2003 for his body of work, died on Saturday at Wellington Hospital in London after a long illness.

O'Toole, once as famous for his prodigious capacity for drink and wild living, found it often eclipsed – in the public mind – his brilliance as a performer, both on stage and screen.

His daughter, actress Kate O'Toole, said: "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. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts."

"In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished."

O'Toole retired from showbusiness only last year, saying in a statement that it was time to "chuck in the sponge".

An eight-time Academy Award nominee who never won Hollywood's top acting honour, O'Toole shot to screen stardom 50 years ago in the title role of Lawrence Of Arabia, which earned seven Oscars, including best picture and director for David Lean. O'Toole's grand performance as British adventurer TE Lawrence brought him his first best-actor nomination but set him on an unenviable path of Oscar futility.

His eight losses without a win is a record among actors.

The nominations stacked up quickly as O'Toole was shortlisted for 1964's Becket, 1968's The Lion In Winter, 1969's Goodbye, Mr Chips, 1972's The Ruling Class, 1980's The Stunt Man and 1982's My Favourite Year.

In the latter film, O'Toole played a dissolute actor preoccupied with drink and debauchery, seemingly a tailor-made role for a star known in his early years for epic carousing with such fellow party animals as Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter Finch.

In 2003, aged 70, O'Toole received an honorary Oscar, often given as a consolation prize for acclaimed actors and filmmakers who never managed to win.

O'Toole went into acting after serving in the Royal Navy, studying at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

His early stage successes included the lead in Hamlet and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

A hero and a hellraiser

By Nick Clark

Born in County Galway in 1932, O’Toole wrote in a notebook as a boy: “I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony.”

He went to Rada and became a Shakespearean actor at the Bristol Old Vic. He rose to stardom in 1962 after David Lean cast him as the soldier T.E. Lawrence.

O’Toole would have a long and glittering screen and stage career. He starred as Hamlet in the first ever production at the National Theatre, and remained a stage actor until 1999, starring in Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell.

He was nominated for best actor at the Academy Awards eight times for films including Becket, Goodbye, Mr Chips and Venus but left empty-handed each time, before receiving an honorary Oscar in 2003.

Off screen, O’Toole was part of a set, including close friends Richard Burton and Richard Harris, who were known for their drinking.

Michael Freedland, the author of Peter O’Toole: A Biography,  said: “He was charismatic, even when he had lost his good looks and age had crept up on him. There was something about him. Whatever he did, people knew they were dealing with a star.”

Tributes poured in last night after news of his death. Stephen Fry described him as “monster, scholar, lover of life, genius”.  David Cameron said: “His performance in my favourite film, Lawrence of Arabia, was stunning.” The Irish actor Jason O’Mara described him as an “acting legend and a hell-raiser”.

O’Toole, who died in hospital on Saturday, is survived by two daughters and a son.

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