When O’Toole was announced as the winner of a special lifetime achievement Oscar in 2003, he intended to decline the award, feeling it signaled the end of his career.
So he sends a letter to the Academy explaining that he is “still in the game”…
To this day, the genius actor continues to be in the game. The big ones never get out of it. Even after they leave this world…
Peter O’Toole was born on 2 August 1932, the son of Constance Jane Elliott (née Ferguson), a Scottish nurse, and Patrick Joseph “Spats” O’Toole, an Irish metal player, footballer and bookie, O’Toole claims , that he was unsure of his birthplace or date, stating in his autobiography that he accepted August 2 as his birth date, but had a birth certificate from England and Ireland.
Records at Leeds General Register Office confirm that he was born at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds, Yorkshire, England on 2 August 1932.
He has an older sister named Patricia and grew up in the southern Leeds suburb of Hunslet. When he was one year old, his family embarked on a five-year tour of the major cities of northern England. He and his sister were raised in their father’s Catholic faith.
O’Toole fell in love with acting as a child, and he played his first role when he was only 6 years old in a home play. Because of the war and the evacuation, he stopped school before he was 11 years old.
In 1945, he was sent to a Catholic boarding school, from where he soon ran away, disgusted by the humiliations to which he was subjected by the nun teachers, who called even the smallest offenses “sin”.
Later he says: “I used to be very afraid of the nuns: all their denial of femininity – the black dresses and the shaving of the hair – was so terrible, so terrifying. […] Of course, all that is no longer the case .. Now they drink gin and tonics in Dublin pubs and several of them flashed me their beautiful ankles the other day.”
After leaving school, O’Toole got a job as a trainee journalist and photographer at the Yorkshire Evening Post until he was called up for national service as a signalman in the Royal Navy.
In a 2006 radio interview on NPR, he was asked if there was anything he always wanted to do. His answer is that he always wanted to try being either a poet or an actor.
He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) from 1952 to 1954 on a scholarship. This happens after he is rejected from the Abbey Theater drama school in Dublin by director Ernest Blyth because he cannot speak Irish.
At RADA he is in the same class as Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Brian Bedford. O’Toole described it as “the most remarkable class the academy ever had, although we weren’t considered very good at the time. We were all considered stupid.”
While studying at RADA in the early 1950s, O’Toole actively protested British involvement in the Korean War. Later, in the 1960s, he was an active opponent of the Vietnam War. Played a role in creating the current form of the well-known folk song “Carrickfergus”, which he associated with Dominic Behan, who recorded it in the mid-1960s.
Although he lost faith in organized religion as a teenager, O’Toole expressed positive feelings about Jesus Christ. In an interview with The New York Times, he said: “No one can take Jesus away from me… there is no doubt that there was a historical figure of enormous importance, with enormous ideas. Like peace.” He calls himself a “retired Christian” who prefers “education, reading and facts” to faith.
In 1959, he married the Welsh actress Sian Phillips, with whom he had two daughters: the actress Kate and Patricia. They divorced in 1979. Phillips later wrote that O’Toole subjected her to mental cruelty, largely fueled by drinking, and was subject to bouts of extreme jealousy, and she finally left him because a younger lover.
Daughter Kate O’Toole, actor Peter O’Toole and his son Lorcan O’Toole during the TCM Classic Film Festival at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on April 30, 2011 in Hollywood, California (Photo: Getty Images)
O’Toole and his girlfriend, the model Karen Brown, later had a son, Lorcan O’Toole (born 17 March 1983), when O’Toole was in his fifties. Lorcan, now an actor, was a pupil at Harrow School, in West Acre, from 1996.
O’Toole played rugby as a child in Leeds and was also a rugby union fan, attending Five Nations matches with friends and fellow rugby fans such as Richard Harris, Kenneth Griffith, Peter Finch and Richard Burton. He is also a lifelong player, coach and fan of cricket and more specifically of Sunderland AFC
His support for Sunderland was passed down to him from his father, who was a worker at Sunderland for many years. He has been named their most famous fan. The actor admitted in a later interview that he no longer considers himself a big fan of them after the demolition of Roker Park and the subsequent move to the Stadium of Light. He describes Roker Park as his last association with the club and that all “they meant to me was when they were at Roker Park”.
O’Toole was interviewed at least three times by Charlie Rose on his talk show of the same name. In a January 17, 2007 interview, O’Toole stated that British actor Eric Porter was his greatest influence, adding that the difference between actors of yesterday and today was that actors of his generation were trained in “theater, theater, theater”. He also believes that the challenge for an actor is to “use his imagination to connect with his emotion” and that “good roles make good actors”.
But elsewhere he acknowledges Donald Woolfitt as his most important mentor.
A serious illness nearly ended O’Toole’s life in the late 1970s. His stomach cancer was misdiagnosed as the result of alcoholism. O’Toole underwent surgery in 1976 to remove his pancreas and much of his stomach, which led to insulin-dependent diabetes.
In 1978, he almost died of a blood disease. He eventually recovers and returns to work. He has lived at Sky Road, Connemara, County Galway since 1963 and at the height of his career maintained homes in Dublin, London and Paris.
In an interview with National Public Radio in December 2006, O’Toole revealed that he knew all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
O’Toole says of the sonnets that nothing in the English language compares to them, and he reads them every day. In “Venus” he recites sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”).
O’Toole wrote two memoirs: The Child describes his childhood in the years leading up to World War II and was a New York Times Book of the Year in 1992.
The Apprentice is about the years spent studying with friends at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
O’Toole retired from acting in July 2012 due to a recurrence of stomach cancer. He passed away on 14 December 2013 at the Wellington Hospital in St John’s Wood, London, aged 81.
Actor Peter O’Toole attends the TCM Classic Film Festival Opening Night and World Premiere of ‘An American In Paris’ at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on April 28, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo: Getty Images)
His funeral was at Golders Green Crematorium in London on 21 December 2013. He was sent off with songs and cheers, as he had ordered. His body was cremated in a wicker coffin.
His family stated their intention to carry out his wishes and take his ashes to the west of Ireland.
How has his star shined over the years?
In 1962, O’Toole was chosen by David Lean to play the main role in the masterpiece “Lawrence of Arabia”. The success was impressive, he was already a world star.
His performance in “Lauren of Arabesque” is number one on Premiere Magazine’s List of the 100 Greatest Acting Performances of All Time.
Along with Paul Newman, Bing Crosby and Al Pacino, Peter O’Toole is one of four actors in film history to be nominated twice for an Oscar for the same role in two different films – O’Toole’s nominations are: for best actor as Henry II in Beckett (1964) and a second time for Henry II in The Lion in Winter (1968).
He was honored with the highest theatrical award “Laurence Olivier” named after the great actor for outstanding achievements in his theatrical career (2000).
Making his film debut in 1959, O’Toole achieved international recognition as TE Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He was nominated for this award seven more times – for the role of King Henry II in both “Beckett” (1964) and “The Lion in Winter” (1968), “Goodbye Mr. Chips” (1969), ” The Ruling Class (1972), The Stuntman (1980), My Favorite Year (1982) and Venus (2006) and holds the record for the most acting Oscar nominations without winning (tied with Glenn Close.
In 2002, he received the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
O’Toole has won four Golden Globe Awards, one BAFTA Award for Best British Actor and one Primetime Emmy Award.