Peter O’Toole dies aged 81

Actor shot to fame in the Oscar-winning epic Lawrence of Arabia

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to legend of stage and screen Peter O'Toole who has died at the Wellington Hospital, London, aged 81.

O’Toole who rose to stardom in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, went on to star in Goodbye Mr Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man and My Favourite Year. His stage plays included a succession of Shakespearean parts, adaptations of PG Wodehouse and famously, the play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell.

He received an honorary Oscar in 2003 after receiving eight nominations and no wins - an unassailed record. O’Toole initially asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to delay the award until he was 80, remarking he still “might win the bugger outright”.

President Higgins said he was privileged to know O’Toole “as a friend since 1969”.


Mr Higgins said the actor spent part of 1979 in Clifden where Mr Higgins met him “ almost daily and all of us who knew him in the west will miss his warm humour and generous friendship”.

Mr Higgins said the world had lost one of the giants of film and theatre. He said the actor had been “deeply committed to the stage” and was “unsurpassed for the grace he brought to every performance”.

“Those who saw him play leading roles on the screen from Lawrence in 1962, or through the role of Henry II in Becket, and The Lion in Winter, or through the dozens of films, will recognise a lifetime especially devoted to the art form of film” the President said.

British prime minister David Cameron said his thoughts “are with Peter O’Toole’s family and friends. His performance in my favourite film, Lawrence of Arabia, was stunning.”

The acclaimed leading man who overcame stomach cancer in the 1970s announced last year he was ending his acting career saying: “I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.”

Born in 1932, he was the son of Constance Jane Eliot, a Scottish nurse, and Patrick Joseph O’Toole, an Irish metal plater, football player, and racecourse bookmaker.

Early in his career O’Toole became emblematic of a new breed of hard-drinking Hollywood hell raiser.

“We heralded the ‘60s,” he once said. “Me, [RICHARD]Burton, Richard Harris; we did in public what everyone else did in private then, and does for show now. We drank in public, we knew about pot.”

Last month it was reported he had been coaxed out of retirement to act in a film about ancient Rome called Katherine of Alexandria in which he would play Cornelius Gallus, a palace orator.

O’Toole’s daughter, actress Kate O’Toole, said: “His family are very appreciative and completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us, during this unhappy time. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts.”

“In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished.”

As Tributes were made by acting communities on both sides of the Atlantic, comedian Stephen Fry said: “Oh what terrible news. Farewell Peter O’Toole. I had the honour of directing him in a scene. Monster, scholar, lover of life, genius.” Irish actor Jason O’Mara described O’ Toole as “an acting legend and a hell raiser”. “His last act of defiance was living to see 81, but the work will live on forever. RIP Peter O’ Toole,” he said.

American director Paul Feig, of Bridesmaids fame, wrote on Twitter: “Just heard that Peter O’ Toole has died. “RIP, sir. You were a hilarious, talented, wild and exciting class act. We need more like him.” Golden Globe-winning American actor Michael Chiklis posted: “RIP Peter O’ Toole. “Original, hard drinking, classic, actor’s actor. The piercing blue eyes of Lawrence Of Arabia will never fade.” TV personality Piers Morgan remembered spending a day at the cricket with him. “RIP Peter O’ Toole,” he posted on Twitter. “Spent one of the funniest days of my life with him at Lord’s a few years ago. “A brilliant actor & crazy, hilarious man.”

O’ Toole is survived by two daughters — Kate and Patricia — and a son, Lorcan Patrick O’ Toole.