6:03pm

Sun December 15, 2013
Remembrances

Peter O'Toole, A Life Even Larger Than 'Lawrence'

Peter O'Toole, the Hollywood legend who was made famous in his title role in Lawrence of Arabia, died on Saturday in a London hospital. The 81-year old Irishman was nominated for eight Oscars in his distinguished career, and was known as a bit of a hellraiser.

To those who hadn't seen the actor perform on the London stage, O'Toole was seemingly catapulted into fame. But it may be more accurate to say he charged into it. As T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, O'Toole was tall, handsome and sensitive.

The role earned him his first Oscar nomination, though he lost to Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. That established something of a pattern in O'Toole's career. He would be nominated for eight Oscars, but never won until he was awarded an honorary one in 2003.

"Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot," O'Toole said as he accepted it. "I have my very own Oscar now, until death us do part."

O'Toole said that the magic of the movies entranced him as a child. Born in Ireland to a wandering bookmaker and raised in England, he didn't start acting until after a two-year stint in the Royal Navy.

It was there that he decided to chase his childhood dream. He described the experience on NPR's All Things Considered after the release of the movie Venus in 2006.

"I mentioned that I wasn't particularly satisfied with what I was doing in civilian life, which was working for a newspaper," he recalled. "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."

From there he entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and started a career on stage that would carry him to London and eventually, to the silver screen.
In 2012, 50 years after his launch into stardom and a month before his 80th birthday, O'Toole announced his retirement from acting.

What he would not quit though, he said, was his love of the theater. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he said that theater at its most basic level is "the human speech as an artform. That is what I truly believe, and that is what makes acting, for me, such a worthwhile thing to do."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Peter O'Toole, the Hollywood legend who was made famous by his title role in "Lawrence of Arabia," has died. The 81-year-old Irishman was nominated for eight Oscars in his distinguished career and was known as a bit of a hell-raiser. NPR's Nathan Rott has this remembrance.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: To those that hadn't seen the actor perform on the London stage, Peter O'Toole was seemingly catapulted into fame. But it may be more accurate to say that he charged into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA")

ROTT: As T.E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia, O'Toole was tall, handsome and sensitive.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA")

PETER O'TOOLE: (as T.E. Lawrence) You do not drink?

ZIA MOHYEDDIN: (as Tafas) No.

O'TOOLE: (as T.E. Lawrence) I'll drink when you do.

ROTT: The role earned him his first Oscar nomination. He lost to Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," which established something of a pattern in O'Toole's career. He would be nominated for eight Oscars but never won until he was awarded an honorary one in 2003. Meryl Streep introduced him.

(SOUNDBITE OF 75TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

MERYL STREEP: Someone once said, the more praise a man is willing to take, the less he probably deserves. Whoever said that must have been - had the ever reluctant and as such deeply deserving recipient of tonight's honorary Oscar Award in mind, Peter O'Toole.

O'TOOLE: Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot. I have my very own Oscar now to be with me till death us do part.

ROTT: O'Toole said that the magic of the movies entranced him as a child. Born in Ireland to a wandering bookmaker and raised in England, he didn't start acting until after a two-year stint with the Royal Navy. It was there that he decided to chase his childhood dream. He described the experience on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED after the release of the movie "Venus" in 2006.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

O'TOOLE: 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.

ROTT: From there, he entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and started a career on stage that would carry him to London and eventually to the silver screen. In 2012, 50 years after his launch into stardom and a month before his 80th birthday, he announced his retirement from acting. What he would not quit, though, he said, was his love of the theater. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he said that theater at its most basic level is...

O'TOOLE: The human speech as an art form. That is what I truly believe. And that is one of the things that makes, for me, acting such a worthwhile thing to do.

ROTT: Peter O'Toole was 81. Nathan Rott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.