Peter O’Toole, the acclaimed actor who made his name playing the title role in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, died in London on Saturday at the age of 81. The New York Times reports that he had been ill for a long time.
The son of an Irish bookmaker, O’Toole started off his acting career on the British stage in the 1950s, spending several years at the Bristol Old Vic theater and turning in an impressive performance as Hamlet in a 1958 London production. His portrayal of soldier and scholar T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia earned him his first of eight Academy Award nominations. Further accolades came for his work in Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year and, most recently, in the 2006 film Venus. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally gave him an honorary Oscar in 2003 in recognition of his entire body of work, which includes more than 90 films and television shows. He was also offered a knighthood in 1987, but turned it down for what he said were personal and political reasons.
O’Toole had a reputation for hard-drinking revelry, but a battle with stomach cancer in the 1970s forced him to quit. Last year, at the age of 79, O’Toole announced that he was retiring from acting. “I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.” His final role, however, was as an ancient Roman orator in the forthcoming film Katherine of Alexandria. The film is scheduled for release in 2014.