Screen legend Peter O’Toole died today at age 81. The eight-time Oscar nominee retired from acting last year after a 50-year-long career that included iconic roles in The Lion in Winter, Lawrence of Arabia, and My Favorite Year. His filmography ran the gamut of genre, from slapstick comedy (How to Steal a Million) to period drama (Beckett) to animation (Ratatouille) to undefinably weird (The Ruling Class). Only recently, O’Toole made the Film Experience Team Top 10 Greatest Losers list twice for his roles. His performances were often surprising, always brave, and never boring,
Peter O’Toole means a great deal to me. The first time I encountered him was on a miserable day when I was sick at home. I happened to flip to The Lion in Winter, and was immediately shocked from my stupor by the crackling energy and vicious repartee he swapped with Katharine Hepburn. Watching them felt like touching a live wire. Years later, when I told my mother that I didn’t like epics, she sat me down for 3 ½ hours of The Lawrence Of Arabia. I was made into a believer, and I have loved him ever since.
Peter O’Toole played insanity better than any other actor, and considering the old adage that it takes a madman to play one, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. He was the Irishman who turned down a knighthood. He was the actor who tried to refuse an honorary Oscar on the basis that "I am still in the game and might win the bugger outright." He was a handsome star with striking blue eyes that carried a hint of madness in them. He was a poet, and according to drinking buddy Richard Harris he could be a bit of a bastard too. All in all, he was a marvel of a man.
Goodbye, Mr. O’Toole. To borrow a line from The Lion in Winter: we would have been great fools not to love you.
(Post your favorite performances and memories in the comments below.)