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Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole


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Also Known As: Seamus Peter O'Toole Died: December 14, 2013
Born: August 2, 1932 Cause of Death: undisclosed illness
Birth Place: Connemara, Galway, IE Profession: actor, author, sailor, messenger, copy boy, reporter


One of cinema's greatest leading men, actor Peter O'Toole first came to international superstardom at age 30 for his role as British expatriate T.E. Lawrence in David Lean's epic masterpiece, "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), an unforgettable turn that kicked off a film career that spanned five decades and garnered eight Academy Award nominations for Best Actor. He was nothing short of masterful all throughout, delivering career-defining performances in "Becket" (1964), "Lord Jim" (1965) and "The Lion in Winter" (1968). Behind the scenes, of course, O'Toole cultivated a well-deserved reputation as a hard-drinking, two-fisted hell-raiser alongside his equally rough-and-tumble compatriots Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and Richard Burton. Despite the broken bones, trashed hotel rooms and splitting headaches, O'Toole delivered one quality turn after another in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969) and "The Ruling Class" (1972), though he had a brush with infamy for his participation in the notorious "Caligula" (1979). Following more acclaim for "The Stunt Man" (1980) and "My Favorite Year" (1982), O'Toole receded into the background for supporting roles in "The Last Emperor" (1987), "King Ralph" (1991), and "Joan of Arc"...

One of cinema's greatest leading men, actor Peter O'Toole first came to international superstardom at age 30 for his role as British expatriate T.E. Lawrence in David Lean's epic masterpiece, "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), an unforgettable turn that kicked off a film career that spanned five decades and garnered eight Academy Award nominations for Best Actor. He was nothing short of masterful all throughout, delivering career-defining performances in "Becket" (1964), "Lord Jim" (1965) and "The Lion in Winter" (1968). Behind the scenes, of course, O'Toole cultivated a well-deserved reputation as a hard-drinking, two-fisted hell-raiser alongside his equally rough-and-tumble compatriots Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and Richard Burton. Despite the broken bones, trashed hotel rooms and splitting headaches, O'Toole delivered one quality turn after another in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969) and "The Ruling Class" (1972), though he had a brush with infamy for his participation in the notorious "Caligula" (1979). Following more acclaim for "The Stunt Man" (1980) and "My Favorite Year" (1982), O'Toole receded into the background for supporting roles in "The Last Emperor" (1987), "King Ralph" (1991), and "Joan of Arc" (CBS, 1999). He went on to play Greek king Priam in "Troy" (2005) before earning his eighth and final Oscar nomination for his leading role in "Venus" (2006). Though he worked regularly, most notably as Pope Paul III on "The Tudors" (Showtime, 2007-2010), the actor lost his vigor to continue performing and announced his retirement in July 2012. Upon his death in December 2013, O'Toole left behind a legacy of extraordinary renown that few of any generation could hope to match.

Born Peter Seamus O'Toole in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland on Aug. 2, 1932, O'Toole grew up in Leeds, England, the son of a bookmaker father, Patrick, and a Scottish-born nurse mother, Constance. A mediocre student in his youth, O'Toole attended St. Anne's Catholic School as a boy, where he received frequent beatings from nuns to correct his left-handedness. At the age of seven, O'Toole decided on a career in journalism after landing a job as a newspaper copy boy. While he succeeded in becoming a newspaper reporter by his mid-teens - and having already fled St. Anne's at 14 years old - he discovered that his true passion lay elsewhere, specifically in the theater. After a brief wartime stint as a radioman in the British Royal Navy, O'Toole applied to the Abbey Theatre's Drama School in Dublin, but was rejected for his inability to speak proper Irish. Humiliated, but undeterred, O'Toole subsequently applied to and was accepted at England's famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1952.

O'Toole soon made a name for himself as a solid Shakespearean player at the Old Bristol Vic in "King Lear" (1955), "Othello" (1956), "Pygmalion" (1957) and "Hamlet" (1958) before his inauspicious film debut in "Kidnapped" (1960), a faithful adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic. Following roles in "The Day They Robbed the Bank of England" (1960) and "The Savage Innocents" (1960), he landed his major break after Albert Finney turned down the role of British author and expatriate T.E. Lawrence in David Lean's historical epic, "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962). In the first major screen role of his career, the golden haired, blue-eyed O'Toole made a powerful impact on American audiences as the conflicted British liaison officer caught at the center of an Arab revolt. Considered by most to be David Lean's masterpiece, this visionary motion picture launched the film careers of both O'Toole and his co-star, Omar Sharif, while also setting the standard for cinematic epics for generations to come. Nominated for an astounding 10 Academy Awards that year, "Lawrence of Arabia" took home seven statuettes, including one for Best Picture. While justly nominated for Best Actor - the first of his career - O'Toole wound up losing to Gregory Peck for "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) in a tough race.

O'Toole's Oscar loss signified the start of an unfortunate pattern which would plague the actor for rest of his career. By the end of the 1960's, O'Toole would be nominated no less than three more times for "Becket" (1964), where he played King Richard II opposite Richard Burton's titular archbishop; "The Lion in Winter" (1968), where he reprised the Richard II and starred opposite Katharine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor; and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969). Unfortunately, O'Toole lost all three bids for Oscar. In between those films, he starred "Lord Jim" (1965) as a rather despondent turn as Herman Melville's title character, played a burglar hired to rob a museum in William Wyler's caper comedy "How to Steal a Million" (1966), and reunited with Omar Sharif to play a cold Nazi general in "The Night of the Generals" (1967). Meanwhile, the motive for O'Toole's constant snubbing by the Academy was unknown, though it was speculated that it may have been due to his flamboyant personal life. Known as one of Hollywood's most infamous party animals in his prime, the actor earned a reputation as a prodigious drinker alongside his contemporaries and fellow countrymen Richard Harris, Richard Burton, and Oliver Reed. O'Toole's booze-fueled hijinks eventually took their toll, however, on both his career and his health in the next decade.

While the actor did manage to pick up his fifth Oscar nomination for the wickedly funny "The Ruling Class" (1972), the seventies were, generally speaking, a decade long low-point in the actor's personal life and career. By the mid-70's, his legendary overindulgence in drink resulted in a near fatal hemorrhaging which required life-saving surgery. The painful operation cost the actor portions of his stomach, pancreas, and intestines, but this brush with death luckily served as the wake-up call O'Toole so desperately needed. Giving up alcohol, he struggled to regain his career momentum, but found good parts lacking, due in no small part to his physical deterioration - his alcoholism had exacted a heavy price from his once golden physical appearance. To add insult to injury, his 20-year marriage to Irish actress Sian Phillips ended in divorce in 1979. Meanwhile, he did continue working, starring with Burt Lancaster and Bob Hoskins in the underwhelming historical drama "Zulu Dawn" (1979). Also that year, he starred as Tiberius opposite Malcolm McDowell's wide-eyed "Caligula" (1979), one of the most notorious movies ever made. Co-starring heavyweight talent like John Gielgud and Helen Mirren, the lavish Roman epic was nonetheless produced by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, which meant hardcore sex atop of graphic violence. Decidedly polarizing to audiences, "Caligula" was nothing more than a failure of epic proportions.

As always, Hollywood has loved a comeback and O'Toole was more than happy to oblige. In 1980, he made a triumphant return to the screen in director Richard Rush's "The Stunt Man," a black comedy that earned O'Toole his sixth Oscar nod for his performance as a maniacal film director without limits as to what he would do to make his World War I opus. Luckily, O'Toole - who by now was quite used to being ignored by the Academy - took his sixth loss in characteristic stride. Two years later, O'Toole scored his seventh Oscar nomination for his performance in "My Favorite Year" (1982), a hilarious comedy that satirized television's golden age of comedy where he played an Errol Flynn-like matinee idol. O'Toole followed this up with a string of stinkers that included "Supergirl" (1984), "Creator" (1985) and "Club Paradise" (1986), but was fortunately back in prime fighting form in time for Bernardo Bertolucci's grand epic, "The Last Emperor" (1987), playing the Scottish tutor of a young emperor (Tijer Tsou). After rounding out the decade with "High Spirits" (1988) and "Wings of Fame" (1989), O'Toole maintained a busy schedule into the 1990s with a string of supporting roles in "The Dark Angel" (1991), "King Ralph" (1991) and the television movie, "Gulliver Travels" (NBC, 1996). He followed up with a hailed small screen performance as Bishop Cauchon in the television miniseries "Joan of Arc" (CBS, 1999), which earned him an Emmy Award nomination.

In 2003, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally bestowed O'Toole with an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. While O'Toole initially balked at receiving the honor - claiming he'd prefer to win it outright, rather than as a token - the actor ultimately relented and showed up to accept his Oscar before an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. That same year, he found more small screen in success with another miniseries, "Hitler: The Rise of Evil" (CBS, 2003), which again earned him an Emmy nomination for his turn as German chancellor Paul von Hindbenburg. From there, he had cameo as the dying King Priam in Wolfgang Petersen's mythological misfire, "Troy" (2004), which he followed up with subsequently phoned-in roles in "Lassie" (2005) and the romantic drama, "Romeo and Me" (2006). That same year, however, audiences were richly rewarded with a performance truly worthy of O'Toole's talents in the May-December romantic comedy, "Venus" (2006), his first leading role in nearly 20 years. His performance as an elderly man who falls for a girl barely out of her teens (Jodie Whittaker) earned the eighth and final Academy Award nomination of his career. Despite being the sentimental favorite, O'Toole lost the Oscar to Forest Whitaker's more dynamic performance as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" (2006).

Ever the workaholic well into his seventies, O'Toole joined the second season of the popular cable drama "The Tudors" (Showtime, 2007-2010), on which he played the politically savvy Pope Paul III, who condemns King Henry VIII (John Rhys-Meyers) for his marriage to Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), whom he would happily see executed. Following a voice role in the popular animated comedy "Ratatouille" (2007), the esteemed actor had a supporting turn as the mentor to a young man who becomes an artist (Jared Padalecki) in the family drama "Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage" (2008). He next co-starred opposite Andy Garcia and Eva Longoria in the historical drama, "For Greater Glory" (2012), which followed a group of Mexican patriots risking their lives to fight an oppressive regime during the Cristero War of the early 20th century. In July of that same year, O'Toole made a surprise announcement that he was retiring from acting, saying that "I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell," in a written statement. O'Toole cited his lack of desire to continue working while announcing his intentions to work further on his memoirs. Peter O'Toole died in London's Wellington Hospital of an undisclosed illness on December 14, 2013.


Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

 Diamond Cartel (2017)
 Dean Spanley (2008)
 Stardust (2007)
 Ratatouille (2007)
 Venus (2006)
 Lassie (2006)
 Troy (2004)
 Bright Young Things (2004) Colonel Blount

Milestones close milestones

Mounted a camel for the first time in 34 years and rode onstage when David Letterman hosted "The Late Show" (CBS) from London
At 14, joined the <i>Yorkshire Evening News</i>; worked first as messenger and copy boy, and then reporter
Made film acting debut in "Kidnapped" (released in USA, 1960)
Delivered first of two Oscar-nominated turns as Henry II in "Becket"
Garnered third Best Actor Academy Award nomination as Henry II in "The Lion in Winter" opposite Katharine Hepburn's Eleanor of Acquitaine
Rode to fame on the back of a camel, playing the title role in David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia"; picked up first of several Best Actor Academy Award nominations and subsequently referred to Lean as the biggest single influence in his adult life
Co-starred with Stephen Rea and Janet McTeer in the romantic drama "Romeo and Me," a love story set during World War II
Starred as Timothy Flyte in the film adaptation of Dean Koontz's "Phantoms"
Starred in two more projects involving music, the hilarious, irreverent black comedy "The Ruling Class" (for which he earned an Oscar nod) and the abysmal adaptation of the popular musical "The Man of La Mancha"
Cast as Greek king Priam in director Wolfgang Petersen's epic "Troy"
Delivered a mesmerizing performance as the Christ-like director Eli Cross in "The Stunt Man," filmed in 1978 but put on shelf so as not to conflict with that year's "Hooper," starring Burt Reynolds as a stunt man; received sixth Academy Award nomination as Best Actor
Displayed his singing ability (or lack of it) opposite Petula Clark in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"; earned fourth Best Actor Oscar nominaton for his sensitive portrayal of the somewhat prissy and martinetish teacher; then-wife Sian Phillips stole all her scenes as the arch Ursula Mossbank
First job, wrapping cartons in a warehouse
Formed Keep Films with producer Jules Buck
Gained recognition for performance as a barrack-room lawyer in the London stage production of "The Long and the Short and the Tall"; part had been written for Finney, but when he suffered from appendicitis during rehearsals, O'Toole took over; it was announced he would repeat the role in the film, but it went to Laurence Harvey instead
Played Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in "Fairytale: A True Story"
Portrayed a veteran English actor in director Roger Michell's "Venus"; received Golden Globe, SAG and Oscar nominations for Best Actor
Portrayed Reginald Johnston, tutor to the young Pu Yi in Bernardo Bertolucci's award-winning "The Last Emperor"
Raised in Leeds; family subsequently moved to London
Rejoined the Bristol Old Vic to play the title role in "Uncle Vanya"
Reportedly gave up drinking after an operation on his stomach in which part of his intestines were removed
Took a sabbatical from acting; lived on family property in the west of Ireland
Returned to the London stage in revival of "Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell"; production prompted by the 1998 death of Bernard (a sometime columnist and drunken Soho veteran and friend; filmed for British TV
Spent two years with Royal Navy as a seaman and decoder on a submarine
Starred in the title role of the National Theatre Company's inaugural production of "Hamlet"
Acted the part of the Emperor of Lilliput in the NBC miniseries "Gulliver's Travels"
Made American TV debut as the Roman general leading the siege at "Masada"; earned an Emmy nomination for his work in the ABC miniseries
Appeared with Albert Finney in RADA production of "As You Like It"
Cast in director Steven Fry's ensemble drama "Bright Young Things"
Landed leading role as an unscrupulous TV game show host in "The Final Curtain"
Made London stage debut in "Major Barbara" with the Bristol Old Vic
Picked up seventh Best Actor Oscar nomination as alcoholic film star Alan Swann in "My Favorite Year"
Portrayed Bishop Cauchon in the CBS miniseries "Joan of Arc"; received Emmy Award
Reteamed with "Lawrence" co-star Omar Sharif in "Night of the Generals"
Reunited with former RADA chums Richard Briers, Ronald Fraser, and Bryan Pringle in the P G Wodehouse story "Heavy Weathers" in "Masterpiece Theatre" (PBS)
Savaged for his portrayal of "Macbeth" on the London stage, receiving reviews like "His performance suggests that he is taking some kind of personal revenge on the play" (<i>The Observer</i>); unfazed by the critics, completed the 14 week run, playing to mostly full houses thanks to the bad publicity
Starred in the BBC-TV movie "Rogue Male"; cast included Alistair Sim and Harold Pinter
Starred on Broadway as Professor Higgins in "Pygmalion"
Joined seconds season of the Showtime series "The Tudors" as Pope Paul III
Again acted with Omar Sharif in fantasy drama "The Rainbow Thief"
Appeared in a rare television role as the older version of legendary 18th century Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova in the BBC drama serial "Casanova"
Appeared with Joan Plowright and Alicia Silverstone in the straight-to-video "Rock My World"
Awarded Honorary Oscar for his film work; requested that the Academy defer the award until his 80th birthday because he did not want to be perceived as out of the acting game; Academy proceeded with award, O'Toole agreed to collect
Co-starred in the television miniseries "Hitler: The Rise of Evil" (CBS); received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie
First time as Henry Higgins in Showtime presentation of "Pygmalion"
Guest starred opposite Richard Dreyfuss on the latter's short-lived TV series "The Education of Max Bickford" (CBS)
Joined Bristol Old Vic company; first appeared in "The Matchmaker"; stayed three years and performed in 73 roles
Joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company, Stratford-on-Avon
Made amateur stage debut with Leeds Civic Theatre at age 17
Underlined his reputation as one of the last great British stage actors with his performance in Keith Waterhouse's "Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell"
Wrote first part ("The Child") of his three-part autobiography <i>Loitering With Intent</i>
Co-starred with Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren in "Caligula"
Co-starred in family drama "Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage"
Featured alongside Andy Garcia in the war drama "For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada"
Announced retirement from acting


St Anne's Catholic School: -
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art: London, England - 1952


At a party following the premiere of "Lawrence in Arabia" in December 1962, Noel Coward told him, "If you'd been any prettier, it would have been 'Florence of Arabia'."

An athletic six-footer, O'Toole once boxed, played rugby and was an expert swimmer. He remains an avid fly-fisherman and is passionate about cricket, which he has sometimes coached.

"In performance O'Toole's mock-heroic gestures, like the Emperor's New Clothes, seem to reveal rather than conceal a naked insecurity. His remarkable, almost feminine handsomeness of feature makes the disclosure of inadequacy doubly disturbing." --From "The Illustrated Who's Who of the Cinema" (MacMillan Publishing, New York 1983)

"It was funny about the movie ["Lawrence of Arabia"] Between its London premiere and its New York opening, it lost 20 minutes, which had been edited out by the producer, Sam Spiegal, an appalling man. It looked as if a swarm of rodents had nibbled it.

"Almost 30 years later, they dug up the missing 20 minutes, but without sound, so a group of us gathered in a studio to dub the dialogue in a 'restored' version. It was a thrilling moment for David [Lean], who was a master, and this was the chance for him to see his masterpiece as he meant it to be; but it was strange too, with Omar [Sharif] and Alec [Guinness] and I all looking at those young people on the screen and speaking their lines in voices that had changed from baritone to alto.

"They opened the restored version in New York, and, of course, they had all us ancients hobble out on stage and take a bow before the film was shown. I didn't have time to get back to the VIP seats in the rear, so I just took a seat in the front row and began to watch.

"I saw the scene where I'm learning to ride a camel, and suddenly, the movie house, all the people there, and everything that had happened in all the years since we made the movie were erased. I was right back there, on the desert. It was incredible." --Peter O'Toole to Chicago Tribune, November 6, 1997.

About acting in "Caligula" (as the Emperor Tiberius), a bit of soft porn produced by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione: "Everyone was in it. Johnny Gielgud, Helen Mirren, Malcolm McDowell. Originally it was to be "Gore Vidal's Caligula". Gore realised about the week before the kick-off that something was up. He got very beady and went off in a huff, tapping his little crocodile-skin shoes.

"When I went on the set there were lots of rubber choppers everywhere and enormous blokes walking around on tiptoe covered in chiffon with big pricks on display. Johnny Gielgud came up to me in a muslin gown and said, 'Do you think we're in a blue film?' But we had a lovely, lovely time. I don't think I've given a funnier performance in my life." --O'Toole quoted in Neon, March 1998.

Companions close complete companion listing

Sian Phillips. Actor. Born in 1934; met while touring in "The Holiday" in 1958; married in December 1959 in Dublin; divorced O'Toole to marry actor Robin Sachs, 16 years her junior, on December 24, 1979; they separated in 1991.
Karen Brown. Model. Mother of Lorcan O'Toole; lived together c. 1982-88.

Family close complete family listing

Patrick Joseph O'Toole. Bookmaker, card shark. Died in the 1970s; Irish Catholic; referred to as 'Spats' or 'The Captain'.
Constance Jane O'Toole. Died in the 1970s; from aristocratic Irish Protestant family.
Kate O'Toole. Actor. Born in 1960; mother, Sian Phillips; carried on stage by Dame Peggy Ashcroft at the age of three months; acted in John Huston's "The Dead" (1987).
Patricia O'Toole. Born in 1963; mother, Sian Phillips.
Lorcan O'Toole. Born in 1983; mother, Karen Brown.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Peter O'Toole" W.H. Allen & Co.
"Peter O'Toole" New English Library
"Loitering With Intent: The Child"
"Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice"
"Private Faces: The Autobiography of Sian Phillips" Hodder & Stoughton
"Public Places: The Autobiography of Sian Phillips" Hodder & Stoughton

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