Peter O'Toole, actor who played Lawrence of Arabia was 81

otoole-1963-bbc.jpgThe irish-born actor Peter O'Toole died Saturday in London. His daughter Kate O'Toole said that her father had been ill for some time. The family was overwhelmed "by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us," she said. O'Toole came to prominence for film audiences in the lead role in David Lean's 1962 epic "Lawrence of Arabia." He was nominated for the Academy Award eight times without ever winning. In 2003 he received an honorary Oscar presented by Meryl Streep. "He was unsurpassed for the grace he brought to every performance on and off the stage,” the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, said Sunday in a statement. "Ireland, and the world, has lost one of the giants of film and theatre."

From Variety:

He was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of his generation. And yet with the 2006 film “Venus,” O’Toole surpassed Welshman Richard Burton and assumed the dubious distinction of being the most nominated actor never to win a competitive Oscar....

He racked up eight Oscar-nominated performances — including the beloved schoolmaster in “Goodbye Mr. Chips” (1969); two portrayals of King Henry II (“Becket,” 1964, “Lion in Winter,” 1968); an insane aristocrat who thinks he’s Jesus Christ in “The Ruling Class” (1972); the larger-than-life film director in “The Stunt Man” (1980); and the swashbuckling actor in “My Favorite Year” — but his “Lawrence” always loomed largest.

The 1962 film was considered Lean’s masterpiece and possibly the greatest debut lead performance by any screen actor in history. Given the young O’Toole’s flaxen mane and sky-blue eyes, Noel Coward is said to have remarked to O’Toole: “If you’d have been any prettier, it would have been ‘Florence of Arabia.”

But for all of O’Toole’s stellar stage and screen work over the years, his acting threatened to be overshadowed by the wild antics of his personal life. He was grouped among a group of hellraising U.K. actors that included Burton, Richard Harris, Albert Finney, Michael Caine, Robert Shaw and Oliver Reed. And like Burton, only more so, the great promise of O’Toole’s early years was marred by bouts of alcoholism and serious physical decline that made him appear emaciated and prematurely aged.

From the BBC story:

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.

Photo of O'Toole backstage at the opening night of Hamlet at the Old Vic theatre in London in 1963.

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