Obituary: Actor Peter O’Toole, 1932-2013

In his diaries, Noel Coward recounts the glittering London premiere of 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia. Coward, who had known the eponymous hero himself, approached the film’s star, Peter O’Toole, basking in one of the greatest careers launches in cinema, history. Sir Noel told O’Toole that if Lawrence had been as good-looking as he was, They’d have been lined up around the corner during the “buggering scene.” That encapsulates the duality of O’Toole’s career: Like his contemporaries, The Richards (Burton and Harris), O’Toole was a prodigiously gifted actor able to carry a great historical epic and a glam rock star equall6y famous for his hard-partying, tabloid-worthy ways.

O’Toole died on Saturday, December 14, in London. He was 81.

The Sixties were O’Toole’s glory years. He received two Oscar nominations for portraying the same British monarch, Henry II, in different films: Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968). The latter, along with the 1966 romantic comedy caper How To Steal a Million, earned him membership in an iconic quartet that that includes Bogart, Grant and Lancaster: actors who played opposite both Hepburns, Katherine and Audrey.

As high maintenance stars with liver damage fell into disfavor, O’Toole’s career waned, but he enjoyed a resurgence in the early Eighties. First, he played a manipulative film director in the cult fave The Stunt Man (1980). This was followed by a hilariously (and wistful) send-up of his own image as a dipso swashbuckler past his prime in My Favorite Year (1982), a nostalgic gem set in the Fifites that brought him face-to-D-cup with a Brooklyn Jewish mother (a terrific Lainie Kazan).

O’Toole received more Oscar nominations without a win than any other actor—eight of them, and all Best Actor nods. In 2003, the Academy announced a Lifetime Achievement Award which, ever the rebel, O’Toole at first declined, saying he wasn’t finished yet. While he eventually accepted, he did receive another nomination in 2006 for Venus. He attended the ceremony only to lose again,. The camera kept panning to O’Toole who sported a put-upon expression as if to say, “I had to show up for this? I should’ve sent Sacheen Littlefeather.”

About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.