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Peter Seamus O'Toole (born 2 August 1932) is an Irish actor of stage and screen who achieved stardom in 1962 playing T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia. He went on to become a highly-honored film and stage actor. He has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, and holds the record for most competitive Academy Award acting nominations without a win. He has won four Golden Globes, a BAFTA, an Emmy, and was the recipient of an Honorary Academy Award in 2003 for his body of work.

Early life

Peter Seamus O'Toole was born in 1932, with some sources giving his birthplace as Connemara, County Galwaymarker, Ireland, and others as Leedsmarker, in West Yorkshire, England, where he grew up. O'Toole himself is not certain of his birthplace or date, noting in his autobiography that while he accepts 2 August as his birthdate, he has conflicting birth certificates in both countries, with the Irish one giving a June 1932 birthdate. O'Toole is the son of Constance Jane (née Ferguson), a Scottishmarker-born nurse, and Patrick Joseph O'Toole, an Irish metal plater, football player and racetrack bookmaker. When O'Toole was one year old, the O’Tooles began a five-year tour of major racetrack towns in northern England. O'Toole was evacuated from Leeds early in World War II and went to a Catholic School for seven or eight years, where he was "implored" to become right-handed. “I used to be scared stiff of the nuns: their whole denial of womanhood—the black dresses and the shaving of the hair—was so horrible, so terrifying,” he later commented. “Of course, that's all been stopped. They're sipping gin and tonic in the Dublin pubs now, and a couple of them flashed their pretty ankles at me just the other day.”

Upon leaving school O'Toole obtained employment as a trainee journalist and photographer on the Yorkshire Evening Post, until he was called up for National Service as a signaller in the Royal Navy. As reported in a radio interview in 2006 on NPR, he was asked by an officer whether he had something he'd always wanted to do. His reply was that he'd always wanted to try being either a poet or an actor. O'Toole attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) (1952–1954) on a scholarship after being rejected by the Abbey Theatremarker's Drama School in Dublin by the then director Ernest Blythe, because he couldn't speak Irish. At RADA, he was in the same class as Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Brian Bedford. O'Toole described this as "the most remarkable class the academy ever had, though we weren't reckoned for much at the time. We were all considered dotty".


Peter O'Toole as T.
O'Toole began working in the theatre, gaining recognition as a Shakespearean actor at the Bristol Old Vicmarker and with the English Stage Companymarker, before making his television debut in 1954 and a very minor film debut in 1959. O'Toole's major break came when he was chosen to play T. E. Lawrence in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), after Marlon Brando proved unavailable and Albert Finney turned down the role. His performance was ranked number one in Premiere magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. The role introduced him to U.S. audiences and earned him the first of his eight nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

O'Toole is also one of a handful of actors to be Oscar-nominated for playing the same role in two different films; he played King Henry II in both 1964's Becket and 1968's The Lion in Winter. O'Toole played Hamlet under Laurence Olivier's direction in the premiere production of the Royal National Theatremarker in 1963. He has also appeared in Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock at Gaiety Theatre, Dublinmarker, and fulfilled a lifetime ambition when taking to the stage of the Irish capital's Abbey Theatremarker in 1970 to play in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, alongside the stage actor Donal McCann. In 1980, he received wide critical acclaim for playing the director in the behind-the-scenes movie The Stunt Man. His 1980 performance as Macbeth is often considered one of the greatest disasters in theatre history, but he has redeemed his theatrical reputation with his performances as John Tanner in Man and Superman and Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, and won a Laurence Olivier Award for his performance in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (1989). Another fine performance from O'Toole, which gained him a nomination for Best Actor, was 1982's My Favorite Year, a light romantic comedy about the behind-the-scenes at a 1950s TV variety-comedy show, much like Your Show of Shows, in which O'Toole masterfully plays an aging swashbucking film star strongly reminiscent (intentionally) of Errol Flynn.

In 1972 he played both Miguel de Cervantes and his fictional creation Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, the motion picture adaptation of the 1965 smash hit Broadway musical, opposite Sophia Loren. Widely criticized for using mostly non-singing actors and shunned by the public at the time, the film has gone on to become more of a success on videocassette and DVD, though there are those who still find fault with it. O'Toole's singing was dubbed by tenor Simon Gilbert, but the other actors sang their own parts. O'Toole and co-star James Coco, who played both Cervantes's manservant and Sancho Panza, both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances.

O'Toole won an Emmy Award for his role in the 1999 mini-series Joan of Arc. In 2004, O'Toole played King Priam in the summer blockbuster Troy. In 2005, he appeared on television as the older version of legendary 18th century Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova in the BBC drama serial Casanova. O'Toole's role was mainly to frame the drama, telling the story of his life to serving maid Edith (Rose Byrne). The younger Casanova seen for most of the action was played by David Tennant, who had to wear contact lenses to match his brown eyes to O'Toole's blue.

He was once again nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Maurice in the 2006 film Venus, directed by Roger Michell, his eighth such nomination. Most recently, O'Toole co-starred in the Pixar animated film, Ratatouille, an animated film about a rat with dreams of becoming the greatest chef in Paris. O'Toole starred in the second season of Showtime's hit drama series The Tudors, portraying Pope Paul III, who excommunicates King Henry VIII from the church; an act that leads to a showdown between the two men in seven of the ten episodes.
Peter O'Toole at Savannah Film Festival, 2004

Personal life

In a BBC Radio interview in January 2007, O'Toole said that he had studied women for a very long time, had given it his best try, but knew "nothing". In 1959, he married Welsh actress, Siân Phillips, with whom he had two daughters, award-winning actress Kate O'Toole (b. 1961) and Patricia. Peter and Sîan were divorced in 1979. Phillips later revealed in two autobiographies that O'Toole had subjected her to mental cruelty — largely fuelled by drinking — and was subject to bouts of extreme jealousy when she finally left him for a younger lover.

O'Toole and his girlfriend, model Karen Brown, had a son, Lorcan Patrick O'Toole (born 14 March 1983: O'Toole was fifty years old). Lorcan, now an actor, was a pupil at Harrow School, boarding at West Acre from 1996.

Severe illness almost ended his life in the late 1970s. Owing to his heavy drinking, he underwent surgery in 1976 to have his pancreas and a large portion of his stomach removed, which resulted in insulin-dependent diabetes. In 1978 he nearly died from a blood disorder. O'Toole eventually recovered and returned to work, although he found it harder to get parts in films, resulting in more work for television and occasional stage roles. However, he gave a star turn in 1987's much-garlanded The Last Emperor. He has resided in Clifdenmarker, County Galwaymarker, Irelandmarker since 1963 and at the height of his career maintained homes in Dublin, London and Paris (at the Ritz which was the hotel he was supposedly staying in the movie How To Steal A Million), but now only keeps his home in London. While studying at RADA in the early 1950s he was active in protesting against British involvement in the Korean War. Later in the 1960s he was an active opponent of the Vietnam War.

He is perhaps the only one of his "London" acting contemporaries not to be knighted. However, according to London's Daily Mail, he was offered a knighthood or honorary knighthood in 1987, but turned it down for personal and political reasons.

In an interview with National Public Radio in December 2006, O'Toole revealed that he knows all 154 Shakespeare sonnets. A self-described romantic, O'Toole regards the sonnets as among the finest collection of English poems. He reads them daily. In the movie Venus, he recites Sonnet 18, "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day". O'Toole has written two books. Loitering With Intent: The Child chronicles his childhood in the years leading up to World War II and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1992. His second, Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice, is about his years spent training with a cadre of friends at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The books have been praised by critics such as Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote: "A cascade of language, a rumbling tumbling riot of words, a pub soliloquy to an invisible but imaginable audience, and the more captivating for it. O'Toole as raconteur is grand company." O'Toole spent parts of 2007 writing his third instalment. This book will have (as he described it) "the meat", meaning highlights from his stage and filmmaking career.

O'Toole is a noted fan of rugby and used to attend Five Nations matches with friends and fellow rugby fans Richard Harris and Richard Burton. (O'Toole, Harris and Burton have a combined 17 Oscar nominations.) He is also a lifelong player, coach and enthusiast of cricket. O'Toole is licensed to teach and coach cricket to children as young as ten.

O'Toole has been interviewed at least three times by Charlie Rose on The Charlie Rose Show. In the 17 January 2007 interview, O'Toole said that Eric Porter was the actor who had most influenced him. He also said that the difference between actors of yesterday and today are that actors of his generation were trained for "theatre, theatre, theatre." He also believes that the challenge for the actor is "to use his imagination to link to his emotion" and that "good parts make good actors." However, in other venues (including the DVD commentary for Becket), O'Toole has also credited Donald Wolfit as being his most important mentor. In an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on 11 January 2007, O'Toole said that the actor he most enjoyed working with was his close friend, actress Katharine Hepburn with whom he played Henry II to her Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter.

O'Toole remains close friends with his Lawrence of Arabia co-star Omar Sharif and his RADA classmate Albert Finney.

Academy Award nominations

O'Toole has been nominated eight times for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, making him the most-nominated actor never to win the award.

Year Film Winner Also Nominated
1962 Lawrence of Arabia Gregory PeckTo Kill a Mockingbird Burt LancasterBirdman of Alcatraz
Jack LemmonDays of Wine and Roses
Marcello MastroianniDivorce, Italian Style

1964 Becket Rex HarrisonMy Fair Lady Richard BurtonBecket
Anthony QuinnZorba the Greek
Peter SellersDr. Strangelove

1968 The Lion in Winter Cliff RobertsonCharly Alan ArkinThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Alan BatesThe Fixer
Ron MoodyOliver!

1969 Goodbye, Mr. Chips John WayneTrue Grit Richard BurtonAnne of the Thousand Days
Dustin HoffmanMidnight Cowboy
Jon VoightMidnight Cowboy

1972 The Ruling Class Marlon BrandoThe Godfather (declined) Michael CaineSleuth
Laurence OlivierSleuth
Paul WinfieldSounder

1980 The Stunt Man Robert De NiroRaging Bull Robert DuvallThe Great Santini
John HurtThe Elephant Man
Jack LemmonTribute

1982 My Favorite Year Ben KingsleyGandhi Dustin HoffmanTootsie
Jack LemmonMissing
Paul NewmanThe Verdict

2006 Venus Forest WhitakerThe Last King of Scotland Leonardo DiCaprioBlood Diamond
Ryan GoslingHalf Nelson
Will SmithThe Pursuit of Happyness

In 2003, the Academy honoured him with an Academy Honorary Award for his entire body of work and his lifelong contribution to film. O'Toole initially balked about accepting, and wrote the Academy a letter saying he was "still in the game" and would like more time to "win the lovely bugger outright." The Academy informed him that they would bestow the award whether he wanted it or not. Further, as he related on The Charlie Rose Show in January 2007, his children admonished him, saying that it was the highest honour one could receive in the filmmaking industry. O'Toole agreed to appear at the ceremony and receive his Honorary Oscar. It was presented to him by Meryl Streep, who has the most Oscar nominations of any actor (15).


Stage appearances

1955–1958 Bristol Old Vic

1959 Royal Court Theatre

1960 Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford

1963 National Theatre


1966 Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

1969 Abbey Theatre, Dublin

1973–1974 Bristol Old Vic

1978 Toronto, Washington, and Chicago



  1. O'Toole, Peter, Loitering With Intent, London: Macmillan London Ltd., 1992, p. 10
  2. Whether he was offered an honorary knighthood as a non-British citizen, or a full knighthood based on his status as an Irish citizen born prior to the declaration of the Republic of Ireland when Ireland was technically one of the King's realms, is debated. Whatever the form of knighthood offered, he declined the offer.

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