One of the most acclaimed actors of screen and stage, Peter O’Toole, died, peacefully at home on Saturday, at the age of 81. O’Toole had been battling illness for the last few years. In June of 2012, after over six decades of work, he officially retired.
Already a celebrated star of the English stage, O’Toole shot to stardom with his first major picture, 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia.” His striking good looks, piercing blue eyes and uncommon intensity made him the perfect young thespian to thrust into the spotlight. O’Toole was awarded an Oscar nomination, which proved to be the first of eight throughout his lifetime.
In fact, O’Toole is notable as the actor with the most Academy Award nominations without ever winning. Even more impressively, the nominations were all for Best Actor, including his combustible Henry II in 1968’s “The Lion in Winter,” an Earl who thinks he’s Jesus Christ in 1972’s “The Ruling Class” and a drunken actor doing a TV appearance in 1982’s “My Favorite Year.”
His last nomination was in 2006, for “Venus,” in which he played a dirty old man who bonded with his comely great-niece (Jodie Whittaker). Looking sickly and haggard — a result in part of rather legendary partying — the film played as a farewell to the medium he so enriched. Still, he kept appearing in smaller roles, including doing the voice of the gaunt, miserable food critic in “Ratatouille.”
O’Toole’s sometimes outsized performance style — shouting, leaping around, the frame barely containing him — made him a figure of mostly good-natured fun. But he was capable of genuinely smaller, intimate, quiet moments, as in his beautiful appearance in “The Last Emperor.” And he could be charming in light comedies, as in the underrated, Woody Allen-scripted “What’s New, Pussycat?” opposite Peter Sellers and the over-hated Neil Jordan ghost comedy “High Spirits.”
O’Toole also made some fairly dire films, which he did his best to ham his way through. He was among the pros, withMalcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud, sucked into the lavish Penthouse porn epic “Caligula,” in which he’s memorably, endearingly over-the-top, even for him. Also too good to have him were the likes of “Supergirl,” “Club Paradise,” “Phantoms” and especially “Thomas Kinkade’s The Christmas Cottage,” which unfortunately features him prattling on at length about painting light.
But even when in terrible fare he gave it more than his all, as he did with everything. A king has passed.