Peter O’Toole, the legendary Hollywood star made famous by his leading role in 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, died on Saturday, his agent Steve Kenis said.
O’Toole went on to be recognized as one of the premiere actors of his generation. He was nominated for eight Oscars, but never won until he was given an honorary honor in 2003.
O’Toole was born in Ireland and grew up in Leeds, Yorkshire. O’Toole honed his acting chops in the London theater, before he beat out Marlon Brando and Albert Finney for the role of Lawrence of Arabia.
“In a long list of leading roles on stage and in film, Peter brought an extraordinary standard to bear as an actor,” the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, said in a statement. “He had a deep interest in literature and a love of Shakespearean Sonnets in particular. While he was nominated as Best Actor for an Oscar eight times, and received a special Oscar from his peers, for his contribution to film, he was deeply committed to the stage.”
As the BBC reports, at first, O’Toole declined the honorary Oscar, telling the Academy to hold off until was 80, because he was “still in the game and might win the bugger outright.” At age 79, O’Toole announced that he was retiring from acting.
O’Toole died in a London hospital following a long illness. He was 81.
NPR’s Melissa Block spoke to O’Toole in 2007. They talked about how he got into acting in the 1950s just as he was serving in the Royal Navy.
“I served with men who’d been blown up in the Atlantic, who’d seen their friends drinking icy bubbles in oil and being machine gunned in the water,” O’Toole told Melissa. “And I mentioned that I wasn’t particularly satisfied with what I was doing in civilian life, which was working for a newspaper. And the skipper said to me one night, have you any unanswered calls inside you that you don’t understand or can’t qualify? I said, well, yes, I do. I quite fancy myself either as a poet or an actor. He said, well, if you don’t at least give it a try, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
We’ll leave you with an iconic scene from David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia: