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Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole Irish film and stage actor

Irish film and stage actor
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Irish film and stage actor
A.K.A. Peter Seamus Lorcan O'Toole, '''Peter Seamus Lorcan O'Toole'''
Countries Ireland United Kingdom
Occupations Actor Voice actor Film producer Stage actor Film actor
Type Film, Television, Stage, and Radio
Gender male
Birth 2 August 1932 (Connemara)
Death 14 December 2013 (Wellington Hospital, London, City of Westminster, Greater London, London)
Spouse: Siân Phillips
Children: Kate O'TooleLorcan O’Toole
Height: 1.8796 m
Education Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Peter O'Toole
The details

Peter Seamus O'Toole (; 2 August 1932 – 14 December 2013) was a British-Irish stage and film actor. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and began working in the theatre, gaining recognition as a Shakespearean actor at the Bristol Old Vic and with the English Stage Company before making his film debut in 1959.

He achieved international recognition playing T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) for which he received his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He was nominated for this award another seven times – for Becket (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class (1972), The Stunt Man (1980), My Favorite Year (1982), and Venus (2006) – and holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations for acting without a win. In 2002, O'Toole was awarded the Academy Honorary Award for his career achievements. He was additionally the recipient of four Golden Globe Awards, one British Academy Film Award and one Primetime Emmy Award.

Early life

O'Toole was born in 1932. Some sources give his birthplace as Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, while others cite St James University Hospital, Leeds, England. O'Toole claimed he was not certain of his birthplace or date, noting in his autobiography that, while he accepted 2 August as his birthdate, he had a birth certificate from each country, with the Irish one giving a June 1932 birth date. Peter had an elder sister, Patricia. He grew up in Hunslet, south Leeds, son of Constance Jane Eliot (née Ferguson), a Scottish nurse, and Patrick Joseph "Spats" O'Toole, an Irish metal plater, football player and racecourse bookmaker. When O'Toole was one year old, his family began a five-year tour of major racecourse towns in Northern England. He was brought up as a Catholic.

O'Toole was evacuated from Leeds early in the Second World War and went to a Catholic school for seven or eight years, St Joseph's Secondary School at Joseph Street, Hunslet, where he was "implored" to become right-handed. "I used to be scared stiff of the nuns: their whole denial of womanhood – the black dresses and the shaving of the hair – was so horrible, so terrifying ... Of course, that's all been stopped. They're sipping gin and tonic in the Dublin pubs now, and a couple of them flashed their pretty ankles at me just the other day", he said.

Upon leaving school O'Toole obtained employment as a trainee journalist and photographer on the Yorkshire Evening Post, until he was called up for national service as a signaller in the Royal Navy. As reported in a radio interview in 2006 on NPR, he was asked by an officer whether he had something he had always wanted to do. His reply was that he had always wanted to try being either a poet or an actor. O'Toole attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) from 1952 to 1954 on a scholarship after being rejected by the Abbey Theatre's drama school in Dublin by the director Ernest Blythe, because he couldn't speak the Irish language. At RADA, he was in the same class as Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Brian Bedford. O'Toole described this as "the most remarkable class the academy ever had, though we weren't reckoned for much at the time. We were all considered dotty."


O'Toole began working in the theatre, gaining recognition as a Shakespearean actor at the Bristol Old Vic and with the English Stage Company, before making his television debut in 1954. He first appeared on film in 1959 in a minor role in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England. O'Toole's major break came when he was chosen to play T. E. Lawrence in Sir David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), after Marlon Brando proved unavailable and Albert Finney turned down the role. His performance was ranked number one in Premiere magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. The role introduced him to US audiences and earned him the first of his eight nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor. T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by O'Toole, was selected in 2003 as the tenth-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute.

O'Toole in the TV film Present Laughter (1968)

O'Toole was one of several actors to be Oscar-nominated for playing the same role in two different films: he played King Henry II in both Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968). O'Toole played Hamlet under Laurence Olivier's direction in the premiere production of the Royal National Theatre in 1963. He demonstrated his comedic abilities alongside Peter Sellers in the Woody Allen-scripted comedy What's New Pussycat? (1965). He appeared in Seán O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre.

As King Henry II in The Lion in Winter (1968)

In 1969, he played the title role in the film Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a musical adaptation of James Hilton's novella, starring opposite Petula Clark. He was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

O'Toole fulfilled a lifetime ambition in 1970 when he performed on stage in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, alongside Donal McCann, at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. In 1972, he played both Miguel de Cervantes and his fictional creation Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, the motion picture adaptation of the 1965 hit Broadway musical, opposite Sophia Loren. The film was a critical and commercial failure, criticised for using mostly non-singing actors. His singing was dubbed by tenor Simon Gilbert, but the other actors did their own singing. O'Toole and co-star James Coco, who played both Cervantes's manservant and Sancho Panza, both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances. In 1980, O'Toole starred as Tiberius in the Penthouse-funded biopic, Caligula.

In 1980, he received critical acclaim for playing the director in the behind-the-scenes film The Stunt Man. He received mixed reviews as John Tanner in Man and Superman and Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, and won a Laurence Olivier Award for his performance in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (1989). O'Toole was nominated for another Oscar for My Favorite Year (1982), a light romantic comedy about the behind-the-scenes at a 1950s TV variety-comedy show, in which O'Toole plays an aging swashbuckling film star reminiscent of Errol Flynn. He also appeared in 1987's The Last Emperor, as Sir Reginald Johnston.

He won a Primetime Emmy Award for his role as Bishop Pierre Cauchon in the 1999 mini-series Joan of Arc. In 2004, he played King Priam in the summer blockbuster Troy. In 2005, he appeared on television as the older version of legendary 18th century Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova in the BBC drama serial Casanova. The younger Casanova, seen for most of the action, was played by David Tennant, who had to wear contact lenses to match his brown eyes to O'Toole's blue. O'Toole was once again nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Maurice in the 2006 film Venus, directed by Roger Michell, his eighth such nomination.

O'Toole co-starred in the Pixar animated film Ratatouille (2007), an animated film about a rat with dreams of becoming the greatest chef in Paris, as Anton Ego, a food critic. He also appeared in the second season of Showtime's successful drama series The Tudors (2008), portraying Pope Paul III, who excommunicates King Henry VIII from the church; an act which leads to a showdown between the two men in seven of the ten episodes. Also in 2008, he starred alongside Jeremy Northam and Sam Neill in the New Zealand/British film Dean Spanley, based on an Alan Sharp adaptation of Irish author Lord Dunsany's short novel, My Talks with Dean Spanley.

On 10 July 2012, O'Toole released a statement announcing his retirement from acting.

Personal life

While studying at RADA in the early 1950s, O'Toole was active in protesting against British involvement in the Korean War. Later, in the 1960s, he was an active opponent of the Vietnam War. He played a role in the creation of the current form of the well-known folksong "Carrickfergus" which he related to Dominic Behan, who put it in print and made a recording in the mid-1960s.

In 1959, he married Welsh actress Siân Phillips, with whom he had two daughters: actress Kate and Patricia. They were divorced in 1979. Phillips later said in two autobiographies that O'Toole had subjected her to mental cruelty, largely fuelled by drinking, and was subject to bouts of extreme jealousy when she finally left him for a younger lover.

Publicity photo for Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

O'Toole and his girlfriend, model Karen Brown, had a son, Lorcan Patrick O'Toole (born 17 March 1983), when O'Toole was fifty years old. Lorcan, now an actor, was a pupil at Harrow School, boarding at West Acre from 1996.

Severe illness almost ended O'Toole's life in the late 1970s. His stomach cancer was misdiagnosed as resulting from his alcoholic excess. O'Toole underwent surgery in 1976 to have his pancreas and a large portion of his stomach removed, which resulted in insulin-dependent diabetes. In 1978, he nearly died from a blood disorder. He eventually recovered, however, and returned to work. He resided on the Sky Road, just outside Clifden, Connemara, County Galway from 1963, and at the height of his career maintained homes in Dublin, London and Paris (at the Ritz, which was where his character supposedly lived in the film How to Steal a Million). In an interview with National Public Radio in December 2006, O'Toole revealed that he knew all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets. A self-described romantic, O'Toole regarded the sonnets as among the finest collection of English poems, reading them daily. In Venus, he recites Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"). O'Toole wrote two memoirs. Loitering With Intent: The Child chronicles his childhood in the years leading up to World War II and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1992. His second, Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice, is about his years spent training with a cadre of friends at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

O'Toole played rugby league as a child in Leeds and was also a rugby union fan, attending Five Nations matches with friends and fellow rugby fans Richard Harris, Kenneth Griffith, Peter Finch and Richard Burton. He was also a lifelong player, coach and enthusiast of cricket and a fan of Sunderland A.F.C.

O'Toole was interviewed at least three times by Charlie Rose on his eponymous talk show. In a 17 January 2007 interview, O'Toole stated that British actor Eric Porter had most influenced him, adding that the difference between actors of yesterday and today is that actors of his generation were trained for "theatre, theatre, theatre". He also believes that the challenge for the actor is "to use his imagination to link to his emotion" and that "good parts make good actors". However, in other venues (including the DVD commentary for Becket), O'Toole credited Donald Wolfit as being his most important mentor. In an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (11 January 2007), O'Toole stated that the actor with whom he most enjoyed working was Katharine Hepburn.

Although he lost faith in organised religion as a teenager, O'Toole expressed positive sentiments regarding the life of Jesus Christ. In an interview for The New York Times, he said "No one can take Jesus away from me... there's no doubt there was a historical figure of tremendous importance, with enormous notions. Such as peace." He called himself "a retired Christian" who prefers "an education and reading and facts" to faith.


O'Toole's memorial plaque in St Paul's Church in Covent Garden

O'Toole died on 14 December 2013 at Wellington Hospital in St John's Wood, London, aged 81. His funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium in London on 21 December 2013, where he was cremated in a wicker coffin.

O'Toole's remains are planned to be taken to Connemara, Ireland. They are currently being kept at the residence of the President of Ireland, Áras an Uachtaráin, by the President Michael D. Higgins who is an old friend of the actor. His family plan to return to Ireland to fulfill his wishes and take them to the west of Ireland when they can.

On 18 May 2014, a new prize was launched in memory of Peter O'Toole at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School; this includes an annual award given to two young actors from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, including a professional contract at Bristol Old Vic Theatre. He has a memorial plaque in St Paul's, the Actors' Church in Covent Garden.

On 21 April 2017, the Harry Ransom Center announced that Kate O'Toole had placed her father's archive at the humanities research centre. The collection includes O'Toole's scripts, extensive published and unpublished writings, props, photographs, letters, medical records, and more. It joins the archives of several of O'Toole's collaborators and friends including Donald Wolfit, Eli Wallach, Peter Glenville, Sir Tom Stoppard, and Dame Edith Evans.


Academy Award nominations

O'Toole was nominated eight times for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, but was never able to win a competitive Oscar.

Year Film Winner Also Nominated
1962 Lawrence of Arabia Gregory Peck – To Kill a Mockingbird Burt Lancaster – Birdman of Alcatraz
Jack Lemmon – Days of Wine and Roses
Marcello Mastroianni – Divorce Italian Style
1964 Becket Rex Harrison – My Fair Lady Richard Burton – Becket
Anthony Quinn – Zorba the Greek
Peter Sellers – Dr. Strangelove
1968 The Lion in Winter Cliff Robertson – Charly Alan Arkin – The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Alan Bates – The Fixer
Ron Moody – Oliver!
1969 Goodbye, Mr. Chips John Wayne – True Grit Richard Burton – Anne of the Thousand Days
Dustin Hoffman – Midnight Cowboy
Jon Voight – Midnight Cowboy
1972 The Ruling Class Marlon Brando – The Godfather (declined) Michael Caine – Sleuth
Laurence Olivier – Sleuth
Paul Winfield – Sounder
1980 The Stunt Man Robert De Niro – Raging Bull Robert Duvall – The Great Santini
John Hurt – The Elephant Man
Jack Lemmon – Tribute
1982 My Favorite Year Ben Kingsley – Gandhi Dustin Hoffman – Tootsie
Jack Lemmon – Missing
Paul Newman – The Verdict
2006 Venus Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland Leonardo DiCaprio – Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson
Will Smith – The Pursuit of Happyness

In 2002, the Academy honoured him with an Academy Honorary Award for his entire body of work and his lifelong contribution to film. O'Toole initially balked about accepting, and wrote the Academy a letter saying that he was "still in the game" and would like more time to "win the lovely bugger outright". The Academy informed him that they would bestow the award whether he wanted it or not. He told Charlie Rose in January 2007 that his children admonished him, saying that it was the highest honour one could receive in the filmmaking industry. O'Toole agreed to appear at the ceremony and receive his Honorary Oscar. It was presented to him by Meryl Streep, who has the most Oscar nominations of any actor or actress (19). He joked with Robert Osborne, during an interview at Turner Classic Movie's film festival that he's the "Biggest Loser of All Time", due to his lack of an Academy Award, after many nominations.

Other awards

Year Award Category Title Result
1963 Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Lawrence of Arabia Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Drama Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Won
British Academy Film Award Best British Actor Won
Laurel Award Top Male Dramatic Performance 4th Place
Top New Male Personality Won
1964 David di Donatello Best Foreign Actor (Migliore Attore Straniero) Won
1965 Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Becket Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Drama Won
British Academy Film Award Best British Actor Nominated
Sant Jordi Award Best Performance in a Foreign Film Won
Laurel Award Dramatic Performance – Male 4th Place
Male Star 10th Place
1967 David di Donatello Best Foreign Actor (Migliore Attore Straniero) The Night of the Generals Won
1968 New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor The Lion in Winter 3rd Place
1969 Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Drama Won
1970 Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Goodbye, Mr. Chips Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Musical or Comedy Won
David di Donatello Best Foreign Actor (Migliore Attore Straniero) Won
National Board of Review Best Actor Won
National Society of Film Critics Best Actor 2nd Place
Laurel Award Male Star 13th Place
1972 National Board of Review Best Actor Man of La Mancha
The Ruling Class
1973 Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role The Ruling Class Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Best Actor 3rd Place
Golden Globe Award Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Man of La Mancha Nominated
1980 New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor The Stunt Man 3rd Place
1981 Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Best Actor Won
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Special Masada Nominated
1982 Golden Globe Award Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Miniseries or TV Movie Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actor My Favorite Year 2nd Place
New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor 3rd Place
1983 Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Best Actor 3rd Place
1984 Sant Jordi Award Best Foreign Actor (Mejor Actor Extranjero) Won
1985 Golden Raspberry Award Worst Actor Supergirl Nominated
1987 CableACE Award Best Actor in a Dramatic Series The Ray Bradbury Theater
(Episode: “Banshee”)
Golden Raspberry Award Worst Supporting Actor Club Paradise Nominated
1988 David di Donatello Best Supporting Actor (Migliore Attore non Protagonista) The Last Emperor Won
1989 British Academy Film Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated
1999 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Joan of Arc Won
2000 Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie Nominated
2002 Academy Award Honorary Award Won
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Hitler: The Rise of Evil Nominated
DVD Exclusive Award Best Actor Global Heresy Nominated
2004 Irish Film and Television Award Best Supporting Actor in Film/TV Troy Won
2005 International Antalya Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2006 Las Vegas Film Critics Society Won
British Independent Film Award Best Actor Venus Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Actor Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Best Actor Nominated
Satellite Award Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Nominated
2007 Academy Award Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
British Academy Film Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Best Actor 2nd Place
Online Film Critics Society Best Actor Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
2009 Monte-Carlo Television Festival Outstanding Actor – Drama Series The Tudors Nominated
Irish Film and Television Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Television Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Film Dean Spanley Won
London Film Critics’ Circle Award Best British Supporting Actor of the Year Nominated
New Zealand Film and TV Award Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film Won


Stage appearances

1955–58 Bristol Old Vic

  • King Lear (1956) (Cornwall)
  • The Recruiting Officer (1956) (Bullock)
  • Major Barbara (1956) (Peter Shirley)
  • Othello (1956) (Lodovico)
  • Pygmalion (1957) (Henry Higgins)
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (1957) (Lysander)
  • Look Back in Anger (1957) (Jimmy Porter)
  • Man and Superman (1958) (Tanner)
  • Hamlet (1958) (Hamlet)
  • Amphitryon '38 (1958) (Jupiter)
  • Waiting for Godot (1957) (Vladimir)

1959 Royal Court Theatre

  • The Long and the Short and the Tall (Bamforth)

1960 Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford

  • The Taming of the Shrew (Petruchio)
  • The Merchant of Venice (Shylock)
  • Troilus and Cressida (Thersites)

1963 National Theatre

  • Hamlet (title role) directed by Laurence Olivier


  • Baal (Phoenix Theatre, 1963)
  • Ride a Cock Horse (Piccadilly Theatre, 1965)

1966 Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

  • Juno and the Paycock (Jack Boyle)
  • Man and Superman (Tanner)

1969 Abbey Theatre, Dublin

  • Waiting for Godot (Vladimir)

1973–74 Bristol Old Vic

  • Uncle Vanya (Vanya)
  • Plunder (D'Arcy Tuck)
  • The Apple Cart (King Magnus)
  • Judgement (monologue)

1978 Toronto, Washington and Chicago

  • Uncle Vanya (Vanya)
  • Present Laughter (Gary Essendine)
  • Caligula (Tiberius)


  • Macbeth (1980) (Macbeth) (Old Vic Theatre)
  • Man and Superman (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)
  • Pygmalion (Professor Higgins) (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1984 and Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford)
  • The Apple Cart (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 1986)
  • Pygmalion (Professor Higgins) (Plymouth Theatre, New York, 1987)
  • Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (Apollo Theatre, 1989, Shaftesbury Theatre, 1991 and Old Vic, 1999)
  • Our Song (Apollo Theatre, 1992).

Books authored

  • Loitering with Intent: The Child (1992)
  • Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice (1997)
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