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Arts & Culture

Rants And Raves: Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence in "Lawrence of Arabia," the film that made him a star in 1962.
Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence in "Lawrence of Arabia," the film that made him a star in 1962.

Acclaimed Irish Actor Dies At 81

Peter O’Toole passed away over the weekend. He will be dearly missed but thankfully film will forever preserve his electric talent.

“Lawrence of Arabia” wasn’t Irish actor Peter O’Toole’s first film but it was the film that vividly etched him in the public consciousness. When the blond-haired, impossibly blue-eyed O’Toole, dressed in flowing white Arabian robes, strode atop the train in “Lawrence of Arabia,” he created one of the most memorable images in screen history. He also delivered a towering performance that should have garnered him Oscar gold at the age of 30. But The Academy, fools that they often are, failed to award him gold in his 8 tries at Best Oscar. They feebly tried to remedy their fault by giving him an honorary Oscar in 2003. But O’Toole didn’t need awards to validate his talent. He was riveting onscreen with a larger than life quality that made him perfect for playing kings. He had a reputation off screen for drinking and displaying a fearless love of life.

Peter O'Toole in "The Ruling Class" (1972).
AVCO Embassy
Peter O'Toole in "The Ruling Class" (1972).

He roared as King Henry II in two films, “Becket” and “The Lion in Winter;” delighted us with his comic finesse in “How to Steal A Million;” brought us to tears with “Goodbye, Mr. Chips;” and displayed devilish charm in “The Stuntmen.” But perhaps one of his best and most underrated performances was in the savage satire, “The Ruling Class.” His last great role was in “Venus” in 2006 for which he received his last Oscar nomination. But he was also memorable, if in voice only, for his work on the animated “Ratatouille.”


Growing up in the 1960s, I fell in love with O’Toole. Not only did he have a physical beauty that was hard to resist but he exuded sharp intelligence and an irresistible passion. American method actors may have developed a more naturalistic style but O’Toole had a charisma and star quality that made him larger than life. It was a quality well suited to roles in films as diverse as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “My Favorite Year.” But despite this epic quality, he always found a very real emotional core to his characters.

He penned an autobiography under the sly title “Loitering with Intent” (he also wrote a second volume), and always managed a self-deprecating sense of humor.

The great thing about movie actors is that they will always be preserved at the height of their talent and beauty for generations to come. I will always treasure the movies O’Toole made, and am grateful to him for instilling a little more zest for life and even a little of his audacious sense of fearlessness in me at an early age.

O’Toole was 81 when he passed away in a London hospital after a long illness.

Here is an interesting video featuring Peter O'Toole and Orson Welles discussing "Hamlet." It reveals O'Toole's passion for the Bard and his articulate ability to discuss his profession. I do regret that more of his stage work hasn't been preserved on film and video.