New York Times obituary by Benedict Nightingale
Peter O’Toole, an Irish bookmaker’s son with a hell-raising streak whose performance in the 1962 epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” earned him overnight fame and established him as one of his generation’s most charismatic actors, died on Saturday in London. He was 81.
Blond, blue-eyed and well over six feet tall, Mr. O’Toole had the dashing good looks and high spirits befitting a leading man — and he did not disappoint in “Lawrence,” David Lean’s wide-screen, almost-four-hour homage to T. E. Lawrence, the daring British soldier and adventurer who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks in the Middle East in World War I.
The performance brought Mr. O’Toole the first of eight Academy Award nominations, a flood of film offers and a string of artistic successes in the ’60s and early ’70s. In the theater — he was a classically trained actor — he played an anguished, angular tramp in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and a memorably battered title character in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” In film, he twice played a robust King Henry II: first opposite Richard Burton in “Becket” (1964), then with Katharine Hepburn as his queen in “The Lion in Winter” (1968). Both earned Oscar nominations for best actor, as did his repressed, decaying schoolmaster in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” in 1970 and the crazed 14th Earl of Gurney in “The Ruling Class” in 1973.
His carousing became legend, particularly in the 1970s. As he himself said, he had long been “happy to grasp the hand of misfortune, dissipation, riotous living and violence,” counting Burton, Richard Harris, Robert Shaw, Francis Bacon, Trevor Howard, Laurence Harvey and Peter Finch among his drinking companions. He lost much of his “Lawrence” earnings in two nights with Omar Sharif at casinos in Beirut and Casablanca.
Though he won many lesser awards during his career, triumph at the Academy Awards eluded him, perhaps in part because he had made no secret of his dislike of Hollywood and naturalistic acting, which he considered drab. He was nothing if not ambitious, but success would come on his own terms, not the movie industry’s.
Mr. O’Toole liked to tell interviewers that his background was “not working class but criminal class.” The father was left with a bad right hand after all its knuckles were systematically broken, presumably by creditors.
Apart from his three children — Kate, Pat and Lorcan, who survive him — cricket was Mr. O’Toole’s most lasting love. Indeed, he took a diploma as a professional coach when he was 60, the better to instruct his son and train a London boys’ team.
In 2000, he was honored with the Outstanding Achievement citation at the Laurence Olivier Awards in London. In 2003, one nomination away from setting a record among actors for the most Oscar nominations without winning — he received an honorary one for lifetime achievement.
At first reluctant to accept, fearing it would somehow signal the end of his career, Mr. O’Toole eventually agreed to the honor as something well earned and started his acceptance speech by saying, not without a note of triumph: “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride — my foot. I have my very own Oscar now to be with me till death us do part.”
London Telegraph obituary
Peter O'Toole, the Irish-born actor who has died aged 81, was one of the most charismatic, unpredictable, eccentric and individualistic players of his generation.
Hailed both as a classicist and as an exponent of post-war realism in the new British drama, he seemed destined for greatness on the stage until David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) turned him into a film star. It was one of the most spectacular screen breakthroughs of the post-war years.
O’Toole was as famous in his private life for hell-raising exploits, alcoholic benders and independence of artistic judgement, as for his wildly variable performances on stage and screen. The traditional distinction between the actor and the role soon became something of a blur.
Tall, lean, blue-eyed, watchful, whimsical — and, by middle age, so emaciated that his friends feared for his health — O’Toole seemed regularly to veer close to self destruction. A self-confessed lover of sleaze, he once said: “I can’t stand light; I hate weather; my idea of heaven is moving from one smoke-filled room to another.”
His acting ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. It could be subtle, reserved, sensitive and deeply affecting. It could also be loud, self-regarding, mannered and imitative of the worst of the 19th-century barnstormers.
The year 1992 also saw the publication of the first volume of his autobiography, Loitering With Intent. Besides committing to record his own account of a life rich in myth and hyperbole, O’Toole revealed a genuine writing talent whose promise is sadly cut short.
Having been denied as best actor Oscar many times, in 2003 O’Toole received a special honorary award, effectively for his lifetime’s work. He joked about this when, in 2006, he received yet another best-actor nomination, playing a 70-year-old roué in Venus, who romances his best friend’s grand-niece. The lifetime’s recognition, he quipped, had been premature because there was life in the old dog yet.
Peter O’Toole married, in 1960 (dissolved 1979), the actress Sian Phillips, with whom he had two daughters. He married secondly, in 1983, Karen Brown, with whom he had a son. The second marriage also ended in divorce.
Boston Globe obituary by Ty Burr, "God, he was beautiful."
He was possibly the most charismatic, handsome, and gifted of his acting peers, remarkable when you consider that his fellow actors in the 1954 graduating class of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art included Richard Harris, Albert Finney, and Alan Bates.
For a while, O'Toole had it all, but after a decade-long run from 1958 to 1968 that included two stage Hamlets, two filmed Henry IIs, and a career-defining title role in David Lean's 1962 "Lawrence of Arabia," the momentum slipped away. It may have been all the carousing, which achieved iconic proportions until the actor gave up drinking (more or less) in 1975. Or it may have been a curious indecision about celebrity itself. ….O'Toole made hesitancy his metier. His T. E. Lawrence is the hero terrified of what heroism may bring -- a larger-than-life adventurer when seen from a distance, a tremulous blue-eyed existentialist when encountered up close. The tension, majesty, and sorrow of the performance came from some mysterious place between the two.
Thoughts from Roger L Simon, 'Nothing is Written'
For people of my generation who went into film as writers, directors or practically anything else, no movie was of deeper import, of greater inspiration, than Lawrence of Arabia.
The film has remarkable resonance, since it was based (rather loosely) on the book by T. E. Lawrence, which had, as its core subject, the West’s relationship with what, until Edward Said wagged his angry finger, was called the Orient…..
Sherif Ali! So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people. Greedy, barbarous and cruel, as you are.
Tribe against tribe? Where have we heard all that before? Back in 1962, who among us knew about Sunni versus Shiite (or the Howitat and the others, for that matter)? In 2013, who among us doesn’t?
What Peter O'Toole said he wanted on his tombstone
"Many years ago I sent an old, beloved jacket to a cleaner, the Sycamore Cleaners. It was a leather jacket covered in Guinness and blood and marmalade, one of those jobs . . . and it came back with a little note pinned to it, and on the note it said, "It distresses us to return work which is not perfect." So that will do for me. That can go on my tombstone."
On fame after Lawrence of ArabiaPosted by Jill Fallon at December 16, 2013 1:32 PM | Permalink
1. "I woke up one morning to find I was famous. Bought a white Rolls-Royce and drove down Sunset Boulevard wearing dark specs and a white suit, waving like the Queen Mum. Nobody took any f---ing notice, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself."
2. “I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one’s local in Paris and woke up in Corsica.”