Peter O’Toole: ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ actor, eight-time Oscar nominee dead at 81
Stage, film, and television actor Peter O’Toole, an eight-time Best Actor Academy Award nominee best remembered for his performance as T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic blockbuster Lawrence of Arabia, died on Dec. 14 at a London hospital following “a long illness.” Peter O’Toole was 81.
The Irish-born O’Toole (on Aug. 2, 1932, in Connemara, County Galway) began his film career with three supporting roles in 1960 releases: Robert Stevenson’s Disney version of Kidnapped; John Guillermin’s The Day They Robbed the Bank of England; and Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents, starring Anthony Quinn as an Inuit man accused of murder. Two years later, O’Toole became a star following the release of Lawrence of Arabia, which grossed an astounding $44.82 million in North America back in 1962 (approx. $431 million in 2013 dollars), ultimately winning seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Peter O’Toole’s film career would last another half century, but none of his subsequent films would be nearly as financially successful – or, for the most part, nearly as prestigious – as Lawrence of Arabia. In fact, O’Toole never quite became a top film star, i.e., a reliable box office draw. For every Becket or The Lion in Winter – or even How to Steal a Million, co-starring Audrey Hepburn – there would be three or four major critical and/or box office misfires. For instance: The Bible … In the Beginning, The Night of the Generals, Brotherly Love, Under Milk Wood, Rosebud, Man Friday, Zulu Dawn, Foxtrot, Caligula, and so on.
In the last three decades, among Peter O’Toole’s few notable films were Bernardo Bertolucci’s multiple Oscar winner The Last Emperor (1987), starring John Lone in the title role; Wolfgang Petersen’s international blockbuster Troy (2004), featuring Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Diane Kruger, and with O’Toole as Priam; and Roger Michell’s Venus (2006), which, however reactionary in its views of Sex and the Elderly Male, won praise from critics and earned O’Toole his eighth and final Best Actor Oscar nomination.
According to the IMDb, Peter O’Toole has another movie coming out in 2014: Michael Redwood’s Katherine of Alexandria, featuring Nicole Keniheart in the title role.
Peter O’Toole quotes and farewell
In the mid-’70s, Peter O’Toole was diagnosed with pancreatitis; at the time, he supposedly quit drinking. “If you can’t do something willingly and joyfully, then don’t do it,” O’Toole would say. “If you give up drinking, don’t go moaning about it; go back on the bottle. Do. As. Thou. Wilt.”
In July 2012, O’Toole announced that he was retiring. At the time, he released the following statement:
Dear All, 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. My professional acting life, stage and screen, has brought me public support, emotional fulfillment and material comfort. It has brought me together with fine people, good companions with whom I’ve shared the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits. However, it’s my belief that one should decide for oneself when it is time to end one’s stay. So I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell. Ever Peter O’Toole
Peter O’Toole is the latest notable film personality to pass away in the last couple of weeks, following American actor Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious), British actress Jean Kent (The Woman in Question), French filmmaker Edouard Molinaro (Oscar nominated for La Cage aux Folles), Hollywood actor-director Tom Laughlin, Italian actress Rossana Podesta (Helen of Troy), and Hollywood actresses Audrey Totter (The Set-Up), Eleanor Parker (Oscar nominated for Caged, Detective Story, and Interrupted Melody), and Joan Fontaine (Oscar winner for Suspicion).
Peter O’Toole movies and Best Actor Oscar nominations
At the 2003 Academy Awards ceremony, Meryl Streep handed Peter O’Toole an Honorary Oscar. That remained O’Toole’s sole Academy Award “victory.” In fact, with eight Best Actor Oscar nominations to his credit, Peter O’Toole held – or rather, holds – the Oscar’s record for the most nods in any of the acting categories without a single (competitive) win. He was shortlisted for the following films:
‘Lawrence of Arabia’
“I can’t imagine anyone whom I’m less like than T.E. Lawrence,” Peter O’Toole himself admitted, but his characterization in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) was widely admired all the same. The movie itself, however historically inaccurate, also received enthusiastic praise, and was perceived as “adult entertainment” for its mix of politics and sexuality. For instance, at one point – if you had a lot of imagination – you’d notice that Lawrence was not only gay and but also into S&M. (Bits from T.E. Lawrence’s rape scene were cut from Lawrence of Arabia‘s original release print; in 1989, some of those were added to the restored rerelease.)
Despite his efforts – he replaced original choice Marlon Brando, he had to learn to ride a camel, he slept in tents in the Jordanian desert – Peter O’Toole lost the Best Actor Oscar to Gregory Peck in Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Note: Robert Pattinson will reportedly play T.E. Lawrence opposite Nicole Kidman’s Gertrude Bell in Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert.
In Peter Glenville’s highly theatrical Becket (1964), written by Edward Anhalt from Jean Anouilh’s play, Peter O’Toole plays King Henry II while Richard Burton is his very, very, very close friend-turned-mortal enemy Thomas Becket. Needless to say, unlike Lawrence of Arabia, Becket‘s gay subtext is quite obvious. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members must have been impressed with this A Man for All Seasons precursor, as Becket earned a total of 12 nominations, including nods for both O’Toole and Burton. Rex Harrison, however, won that year’s Best Actor Oscar for George Cukor’s My Fair Lady.
‘The Lion in Winter’
Based on James Goldman’s play about Traditional Family Values (you can’t get much more “traditional” than the Middle Ages), Anthony Harvey’s The Lion in Winter (1968) stars Peter O’Toole once again as Henry II, here at odds with Katharine Hepburn’s Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three sons (one of whom is Anthony Hopkins as a gay Richard the Lionheart-to-be).
‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’
Herbert Ross’ Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969) is a bloated – but quite handsome – musical remake of Sam Wood’s 1939 tearjerker that had earned Robert Donat the year’s Best Actor Oscar. Peter O’Toole is outstanding as the teacher who loves and loses Petula Clark (Greer Garson in the original); even so, he lost that year’s Academy Award to the Academy’s sentimental favorite, John Wayne, for Henry Hathaway’s Western True Grit.
‘The Ruling Class’
Family Values is once again the topic of Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972), based on Peter Barne’s play. In this black comedy, Peter O’Toole plays an heir who believes he’s God – much to the dismay of his relatives, who then plot to do away with him. O’Toole lost the Best Actor Oscar to Marlon Brando for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.
‘The Stunt Man’
Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man (1980) was an independently made comedy-drama that – after remaining in limbo for a couple of years – surprisingly earned three Academy Award nominations. In addition to Best Actor nominee Peter O’Toole, also shortlisted were director Rush, whom O’Toole said was “presenting a new syntax to cinema,” and the film’s adapted screenplay.
In The Stunt Man, O’Toole plays a genial – but ruthless – god-like filmmaker; one he claimed was inspired by David Lean. Barbara Hershey and Steve Railsback (in the title role) co-starred. O’Toole lost that year’s Best Actor Oscar to Robert De Niro for Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.
‘My Favorite Year’
In Richard Benjamin’s My Favorite Year (1982), Peter O’Toole stars as a version of himself, with elements from Errol Flynn and John Barrymore thrown in. Set in the early days of television, O’Toole plays an alcoholic, has-been actor trying to stage a comeback of sorts. He lost the Oscar to Ben Kingsley for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.
Following a 24-year absence from the competitive Academy Awards, Peter O’Toole returned with Roger Michell’s Venus (2006), a surprisingly reactionary tale (written by the subversive My Beautiful Laundrette‘s Hanif Kureishi) in which he once again played a version of his off-screen self: a frail-looking, elderly man who still enjoys fooling around and the company of (much younger) women. O’Toole, who didn’t bother to campaign, lost the Oscar to Forest Whitaker for Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland.
Surviving Best Actor Academy Award nominees of the ’60s
Following Peter O’Toole’s passing, here are the ten surviving Best Actor Academy Award nominees of the 1960s: winner Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961), Stuart Whitman (The Mark, 1961), winner Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, 1963), Albert Finney (Tom Jones, 1963), Alan Arkin (The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, 1966; The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1968), Michael Caine (Alfie, 1966), Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde), Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate, 1967; Midnight Cowboy, 1969), Ron Moody (Oliver!, 1968), and Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, 1969).
Peter O’Toole quote re: Richard Rush via Damien Bona and Mason Wiley’s Inside Oscar.
Peter O’Toole Lawrence of Arabia photo: Columbia Pictures.