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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. Though he undoubtedly had another great performance in him, 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.
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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.
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