Peter O'Toole: a 'hell-raiser' who exuded 'sex and danger'

Peter O'Toole

Hard-living threatened to derail his career, but few could match him for 'pure sensual excitement'

LAST UPDATED AT 10:28 ON Mon 16 Dec 2013

PETER O'TOOLE made one of the "most brilliant debuts in Hollywood history", then continued to do exemplary work for almost 50 years, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw writes.

The Irish actor, who has died at the age of 81, "sprang from nowhere" as the star of 1962's Lawrence of Arabia. He made a "sensational splash" as the desert warrior - as big as Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind - offering a Lawrence who was "insouciant, dapper, elegant... and also outrageously sexy". O'Toole brought "pure sensual excitement and danger to the cinema screen," writes Bradshaw. He adds: "What a sad passing".

Variety says O'Toole was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of his generation. But he had the "dubious distinction" of being the most nominated actor - eight in all - never to win a competitive Oscar.

When the Academy offered him an Honorary Oscar in 2002, he turned it down at first saying he was "still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright", Variety says. He eventually collected the honorary statue from Meryl Streep the following year, telling the audience: "Always a bridesmaid never a bride..."

O'Toole's reputation for "hell-raising" sometimes eclipsed his abilities as an actor, the Daily Mail says.

He has been described as "a man who wasted his genius on his legendary, heroic and seemingly endless drinking bouts". But his performances, ranging from Lawrence of Arabia, through leading Shakespearean parts to comic roles in adaptations of PG Wodehouse, and his masterful title-role performance in the acclaimed play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, gave the lie to those who said he frittered his life away on wine, women and song, the paper says.

For the Daily Telegraph, O'Toole was "one of the most charismatic, unpredictable, eccentric and individualistic players of his generation". The paper points out that he was hailed as both a "classicist" and an exponent of post-war realism in the New British Drama.

Lawrence of Arabia made him a movie star, the Telegraph says, but he "seemed regularly to veer close to self destruction". His acting was as variable as his character, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. "It could be subtle, reserved, sensitive and deeply affecting. It could also be loud, self-regarding, mannered and imitative of the worst of the 19th-century barnstormers," the paper says.

The BBC concedes that his private life was "turbulent", but says his performances were hallmarked by real feeling. "He was never afraid to take risks with his work and he was dismissive of those who went for the soft option", the broadcaster says. · 

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