Actor Peter O’Toole died on Saturday, Dec. 14th, 2013. Many have reflected on his professional career as an actor and gentleman, and immense contribution to theatre, film and television. However Mr. O’Toole was not just a master of his profession but also a master at life. He was typical of his generation, having lived 81 years, most of it in the 1900’s, meant that he had experienced both the best and the worst f the modern age.
Mr. O’Toole’s film image transcends three generations. From Lawrence of Arabia in the 1960’s, Masada & Sherlock Holmes in the 1970’s and 80’s the Last Emperor, Bright Young Things, in the 1990’s and Venus, Ratatouille, The Tudors & Greater Glory in the last 10 years, a very small sample of his work. He received 8 Academy Awards and the Academy’s Honorary Award for his contribution to the film industry.
Mr. O’Toole’s response in interviews and accolades, often reflected his humility towards his success. He often credited his mentors, reflected on his training and his friends. He could avoid accolades and was even known to have turned down a knighthood in 1987, for political reasons. He was reported to have begrudgingly accepted the Academy’s Honorary Award in 2003.
Mr. O’Toole came from humble beginnings. He was born in in Ireland and grew up in Leeds. His parents were Scottish and Irish, working class Britons. He was evacuated during World War II and suffered the impact of war during his childhood. He experienced a strict, catholic education and was conscripted to national service. He began his working career as a journalist and photographer for the Yorkshire Evening Post. Then after serving in the armed forces, he pursued acting.
Mr. O’Toole applied to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, to study theatre acting. He was rejected and began his training at the Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts (RADA). He began acting as a Shakespearian actor in Bristol. He was 3rd in line for the role of Lawrence of Arabia, which was turned down by Anthony Quinn and Albert Finney. He turned this role into a performance that was famous through time and generations. Mr. O’Toole described achieving a “life’s dream” when he was asked to perform at the Abbey Theatre in 1970 in the play Waiting for Godot.
Mr. O’Toole was a pacifist and actively protested against the Korean and Vietnam wars. He was also a licensed cricket coach and was actively involved in coaching children in the sport. He was married for 20 years. During this time he struggled with alcohol dependency, which caused the deterioration of his marriage. In the 1970’s he faced death. He was treated for stomach cancer, developed insulin dependent diabetes and a deadly blood disorder. He exceeded expectations with his health and well-being.
In the new millennium, and in the age of celebrity, Peter O’Toole was portrayed as an older gentlemen, eloquent and British, famous for his portrayals of powerful characters of historical periods and whose life remained somewhat unnoticed beyond his work. He was an octogenarian whose experiences were unique to the current generations. He lived through a time that required resilience, stamina and flexibility. There is a lot that we could learn from his life – as a mentor of life and work. A real actor and gentleman, Mr. Peter O’Toole.
By Doukessa Lerias