Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia Star, Dies at 81

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 15 2013 2:48 PM

Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia Star, Dies at 81

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Peter O'Toole leaves his hands in wet cement in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on April 30, 2011.

Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

The actor who shot to stardom as T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia died on Saturday after a long illness, his agent said Sunday. Although long considered one of the best actors of his generation, he had the dubious honor of having the most nominations for an Oscar without ever receiving one. Throughout his life he received a total of eight nominations. His first was for his role in 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia and the last for Venus in 2006. He eventually received an honorary Oscar in 2003 after first turning it down in a letter in which he said he was “still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright,” recalls Variety. “Always a bridesmaid never a bride, my foot” he said to much applause when he finally accepted the award.

O’Toole had “one of the most captivating screen debuts in film history,” notes the Wrap. He was largely unknown when he starred in Lawrence of Arabia, a role he only got after both Marlon Brando and Albert Finney turned it down. Although he never managed to match that role, he still became one of the most successful actors of his generation, earning wide acclaim for his performance in movies like Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Becket, The Ruling Class, and The Stunt Man, to name a few.

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Despite his widespread success as an actor, he was also well-known for his partying ways. Early on in his career, O’Toole became “emblematic of a new breed of hard-drinking Hollywood hellraiser,” notes the Guardian. The Irish-born actor’s heavy drinking and chain smoking ended up taking a toll on his health. Although he did give up drinking, he refused to give up smoking unfiltered Gauloises cigarettes, points out the Associated Press. Last year, after 50 years of stage and screen work, O’Toole announced his retirement. "I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell," he said, according to the BBC. "The heart for it has gone out of me. It won't come back.” But last month it was reported he had been convinced to abandon his retirement to act in a film about ancient Rome that is due to be released next year.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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