Peter O’Toole, the iconic star of Lawrence of Arabiawho became one of Hollywood’s early rebels, died Saturday in a London hospital following a long illness.
O’Toole, 81, was nominated for eight best-acting Oscars, a record, for films that include 1962’sArabia, The Lion in Winter (1968) and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969).
Most recently, he earned an Academy Awardnomination for Venus, a drama about veteran actors whose lives are upended when they meet a teenager. O’Toole won an honorary Oscar in 2003 for his body of work, which would include more than 90 films and TV shows.
O’Toole’s family is overwhelmed “by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed toward him, and to us, during this unhappy time,” his daughter Kate said in a statement. “There will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished.”
Born Peter Seamus O’Toole in Ireland, O’Toole originally wanted to be a newspaper reporter, and one of his first jobs was as a copy boy. But after a stint as a radioman in the Royal Navy for two years, he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and got the acting bug. While he had dabbled in theater since he was 17, O’Toole turned his attention to film, earning small roles in movies around 1960.
He shot to stardom in 1962, when director David Lean chose him to play T.E. Lawrence in Arabia, and earned a reputation as a hard-drinking Hollywood hell-raiser, a reputation he seemed to enjoy. A diehard rugby and Shakespeare fan (he once confessed to knowing all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets by heart), he was offered a knighthood in 1987, but turned it down, citing personal and political reasons.
O’Toole was tall, fair and strikingly handsome, and the image of his bright blue eyes peering out of an Arab headdress in the spectacularly photographed desert epic Arabia was unforgettable.
Playwright Noel Coward once said that if O’Toole had been any prettier, they would have had to call the movie Florence of Arabia.
In 1964’s Becket, O’Toole played King Henry II to Richard Burton’s Thomas Becket, and won another Oscar nomination. Burton shared O’Toole’s fondness for drinking, and their off-set carousing made headlines.
O’Toole played Henry again in 1968 in The Lion in Winter, opposite Katharine Hepburn, for his third Oscar nomination.
Four more nominations followed: in 1968 for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, in 1971 for The Ruling Class, in 1980 for The Stunt Man, and in 1982 for My Favorite Year. It was almost a quarter-century before he received his eighth and last, for Venus.
Stomach cancer nearly ended his life in the 1970s, before a triumphant return for Oscar-nominated turns in 1980’s The Stunt Man and 1982’s My Favorite Year.
O’Toole announced last year that he was giving up acting, saying: “I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.” His last film is Katherine of Alexandria, in which he plays Cornelius Gallus, a palace orator. The film is scheduled for release in 2014.
He is survived by his two daughters, Pat and Kate O’Toole, from his marriage to actress Siân Phillips, and his son, Lorcan O’Toole, by Karen Brown.