Oscar-nominated actor Peter O’Toole died yesterday, his agent confirmed Sunday. He was 81. Often called the Hamlet of his generation, his death comes only about a year after retiring from a 54-year career in both stage and film highlighted by his turn as T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, which won seven Oscars including Best Picture. The beloved actor was nominated for eight Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in his lifetime, including a nod for the Lawrence role that defined his career. In July 2012, he wrote a poignant note to the world, stating, “It is time for me to chuck in the sponge. To retire from films and stage. The heart for it has gone out of me: it won’t come back. My professional acting life, stage and screen, has brought me public support, emotional fulfillment and material comfort. It has brought me together with fine people, good companions with whom I’ve shared the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits. However, it’s my belief that one should decide for oneself when it is time to end one’s stay. So I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.”
Peter Seamus O’Toole was born on August 2, 1932 in Connemara, Ireland in County Galway. After a stint in the Royal Navy, he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and debuted on television in 1954 before breaking out in Lawrence of Arabia, earning the first of eight career Oscar nods. After that he was nominated 7 more times, including for Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, and My Favorite Year. He was last nominated for an Oscar in 2007 for the movie Venus. O’Toole also provided the voice of Anton Ego (the hard-nosed food reviewer) in Pixar’s Ratatouille. He was the most nominated actor never to receive an Oscar, but the Academy remedied that by presenting him with an honorary Oscar in 2003.
Related: Peter O’Toole Announces Retirement From Acting: “The Heart Has Gone Out Of Me”
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins memorialized O’Toole in a statement via the actor’s agent, Steve Kenis:
In a long list of leading roles on stage and in film, Peter brought an extraordinary standard to bear as an actor. He had a deep interest in literature and a love of Shakespearean Sonnets in particular.
While he was nominated as Best Actor for an Oscar eight times, and received a special Oscar from his peers, for his contribution to film, he was deeply committed to the stage.
Those who saw him play leading roles on the screen from Lawrence in 1962, or through the role of Henry II in Becket, and The Lion in Winter, or through the dozens of films, will recognise a lifetime devoted to the art form of the camera.
Yet others may have have seen him on stage in London, New York, or Dublin where he performed at the Abbey with the late Donal McCann in Godot or at the Gaiety in the plays of Shaw and O’Casey. His performance in Shaw’s plays was outstanding.
I was privileged to know him as a friend since 1969. I spent part of 1979 in Clifden where we met almost daily and all of us who knew him in the West will miss his warm humour and generous friendship.
To Kate, Pat, Lorcan and Sian my deepest sympathy. Sabina and I and our Children will miss him, as will all those who saw him on screen or stage or had the privilege, as I had, of having his friendship and humour.
He was unsurpassed for the grace he brought to every performance on and off the stage.”
Said daughter Kate O’Toole: “His family are very appreciative and completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us, during this unhappy time. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts. In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished. We will be happy to speak to you all then but in the meantime if you could give Peter O’Toole the respect he deserves and allow us to grieve privately we’d appreciate it. Thank you all again for your beautiful tributes – keep them coming.”