Tributes as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ star Peter O’Toole dies aged 81

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 9:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 11:32am

Irish actor Peter O’Toole, the star of the 1962 Oscar-winning epic “Lawrence of Arabia,” has died aged 81.

The hell-raising icon of stage and screen died on Saturday at London’s Wellington hospital after a long illness, his agent Steve Kenis explained.

“He was one of a kind in the very best sense and a giant in his field,” he said.

O’Toole’s daughter, actress Kate O’Toole, said the family were “completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of real love and affection”.

“In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished,” she added. “Thank you all again for your beautiful tributes -- keep them coming.”

Irish President Michael D Higgins said it was “with great sadness” that he heard of O’Toole’s death.

“Ireland, and the world, has lost one of the giants of film and theatre,” he said in a statement.

“I was privileged to know him as a friend since 1969. I spent part of 1979 in Clifden where we met almost daily and all of us who knew him in the West will miss his warm humour and generous friendship.

“He was unsurpassed for the grace he brought to every performance on and off the stage,” said the statesman.

British Prime Minister David Cameron offered his condolences to O’Toole’s family and friends.

“I had the honour of directing him in a scene. Monster, scholar, lover of life, genius
Stephen Fry

“His performance in my favourite film, ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ was stunning,” he said.

Comedian Stephen Fry called the actor’s death “terrible news.”

“Farewell Peter O’Toole,” he wrote on Twitter. “I had the honour of directing him in a scene. Monster, scholar, lover of life, genius.”

O’Toole was nominated for eight Best Actor Oscars and received an honourary award in 2003.

Respected British film critic and friend Barry Norman said O’Toole “deserved at least a couple of Oscars”.

“He was a very considerable movie star,” he told the BBC. “He was an extremely good looking and charming guy.”

CNN television host Piers Morgan recalled spending “one of the funniest days of my life with him” at a cricket match a few years ago, and called him “a brilliant actor & crazy, hilarious man.”

Fellow actor Michael Chiklis, star of “The Shield” said O’Toole was the “original, hard-drinking, classic, actor’s actor”, adding: “The piercing blue eyes of Lawrence of Arabia will never fade.”

The son of an Irish bookmaker, O’Toole was born in 1932 and raised in northern England.

After working briefly as a journalist and a radioman for the Royal Navy he went to study at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, in a class that included future stars Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Richard Harris.

After making a name in theatre, his big break in cinema arrived in the form of David Lean’s 1962 desert epic “Lawrence of Arabia,” in which he played British army officer T.E. Lawrence who helped lead an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Watch: Peter O'Toole, in what many call his greatest role, Lawrence of Arabia

The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, but O’Toole missed out on the Best Actor prize, which went to Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

He was unsuccessfully nominated a further six times before being given the honourary award in 2003, which he initially refused.

His final nomination, also unsuccessful, came in 2006 for his performance in “Venus”.

O’Toole scored a record-breaking 8 Oscar nods, but won none

In his storied career, stage and screen actor Peter O’Toole, who died Saturday at age 81 following a long bout of illness, dynamically pronounced countless memorable characters, from the daring T.E. Lawrence in “Lawrence of Arabia” to amorous Maurice in “Venus.”

He earned four Golden Globes and an Emmy for his work, and holds the record for the most acting Oscar nominations without a win — eight.

However, in 2002 O’Toole was presented the Academy Honorary Award for his entire body of work. In his acceptance speech he joked, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot!”

Here are the late actor’s eight nominations and who he lost to each year:

  • T.E. Lawrence in “Lawrence of Arabia,” 1962. Lost to Gregory Peck, who starred as lawyer Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
  • King Henry II in “Becket,” 1964. Rex Harrison, who starred as Professor Henry Higgins, opposite Audrey Hepburn, in “My Fair Lady,” took home the Oscar.
  • King Henry II in “The Lion in Winter,” 1968. Cliff Robertson won the award for his touching performance in “Charly.”
  • Arthur Chipping in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” 1969. Bested by John Wayne, the star of the western “True Grit.”
  • Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, the 14th Earl of Gurney in “The Ruling Class,” 1972. Lost to Marlon Brando, who won for his lead role as mafia patriarch Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.”
  • Eli Cross in “The Stunt Man,” 1980. Lost to Robert De Niro, who starred as a self-destructive boxer in “Raging Bull.”
  • Alan Swann in “My Favorite Year,” 1982. Ben Kingsley won the Oscar for playing the famed Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi in “Gandhi.”
  • Maurice in “Venus,” 2006. Forest Whitaker took the top honour that year for his portrayal of the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.”