O'Toole, who survived a bout with stomach cancer in the 1970s
but whose health had been damaged by years of heavy drinking and
chain-smoking, died in a London hospital on Saturday, Steve
Kenis, his agent, told Reuters.
"Peter O'Toole's family announced today that very sadly Peter
died yesterday, peacefully in hospital. He had been ill for some
time," Kenis said in a statement.
O'Toole appeared in many acclaimed films, but is best remembered
for his lead role in David Lean's 1962 blockbuster "Lawrence of
Arabia" in which he played T.E. Lawrence, the eccentric British
army officer who fought with Arab irregular troops against
Ottoman Turkish rule in World War One.
O'Toole's striking good looks and charm sustained him through a
stage and film career of more than 50 years that swung wildly
between triumph and disaster, garnering him eight Oscar
nominations but, to the disgust of his admirers, no win.
The most-nominated actor never to win the award, he eventually
and reluctantly accepted an honorary Oscar in 2003.
Before doing so, he composed a hand-written open letter to the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Later describing his reluctance to accept the award, he wrote:
"I was enchanted but said that as I was still in the game and
might yet win the lovely bugger outright, would the Academy
please defer the honor until I am 80?"
Believed to have been born in Ireland, O'Toole grew up in
England and trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic
Art (RADA) where he was in the same class as Albert Finney.
His piercing blue eyes, tousled brown hair and 6-foot-3-inch
(1.9 meter) frame made him an instant hit with women when he
began his stage career in 1954.
He initially made waves on stage in several key Shakespearean
roles, including an acclaimed turn as "Hamlet," before gaining
fame in films such as "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "The Ruling Class",
"The Stunt Man" and "My Favorite Year."
A SWAGGERING ROMANTIC
Living down his Lawrence of Arabia role became a major problem,
however, and for most of the 1970s, O'Toole found he was playing
nothing but the swaggering romantic actor.
In 1980, he made a humiliating return to the Shakespearean stage
in London after a 20-year absence.
O'Toole's blood-soaked Macbeth at the Old Vic theater provoked
outright laughter from the audience and made front-page news for
its sheer awfulness.
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For the next few years, O'Toole found it difficult
to be taken seriously as an actor. But in the late 1980s, he made a
He also gave up drinking. Years of abdominal pain and almost
continuous consumption of alcohol had led to a diagnosis of
pancreatitis and a warning that liquor would soon kill him.
A cameo role as the kindly but bemused English
teacher in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 Oscar-winning film "“The Last
Emperor" showed the public a new side to the hell-raiser they had
come to expect.
A year later, at the age of 56, he won rave reviews for playing his
old Soho drinking pal in the play "“Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell" in a
part that seemed to mirror his own misfortunes.
He had announced he was retiring only last year.
"It is time for me to chuck in the sponge. To retire from films and
stage. The heart for it has gone out of me: it won't come back,"
O'Toole said in a statement.
"It's my belief that one should decide for oneself when it is time
to end one's stay."
Michael Higgins, the president of Ireland, was one of the first to
react to his death.
"Those who saw him play leading roles on the screen from Lawrence in
1962, or through the role of Henry II in Becket, and The Lion in
Winter, or through the dozens of films, will recognize a lifetime
devoted to the art form of the camera," Higgins said in a statement.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a tweet that "Lawrence
of Arabia" was his favorite film, hailing O'Toole's performance in
it as "stunning".
Daughter Kate O'Toole thanked the public for what she described as
an outpouring of love for the late actor.
She asked for her family to be allowed to grieve in private, saying
in the same statement it would organize a memorial service "filled
with song and good cheer" in due course.
O'Toole leaves behind children Kate and Patricia from his failed
marriage with Welsh actress Sian Phillips and Lorcan, his son from a
relationship with Karen Brown, a former girlfriend.
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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