Peter O’Toole (1932-2013)

Tall, slender, blond, blue-eyed, Peter O’Toole definitely had matinee idol good looks, as well as a beautiful voice.  But without the talent to take on any role and excel at it, he may never have been the leading man we came to admire.

Though he had been on stage and had even acted in a few movies, O’Toole truly came to international attention in 1962 in the title role of Lawrence of Arabia.  For the film, he won the BAFTA and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor.  It was the first of his eight nominations in that category, over a period of 44 years.

O’Toole’s manner conveyed confidence and strength, which brought him roles as powerful men.  One of those roles was as King Henry II, which he played in two different movies – Becket and The Lion in Winter.  Both performances earned him Oscar nominations.  He played military generals, historical figures, and religious leaders.

But as anyone who has seen O’Toole in interviews knows, he had a sharp, intelligent wit that served him well in comedies such as How to Steal a Million and The Ruling Class.  In fact, The Lion in Winter is essentially a comedy, as O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn square off in a battle of wits that is a joy to behold.

Although O’Toole never received an Oscar for his performances, he was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 2003 for the body of his work.  It was greatly deserved – and greatly overdue.

In later years, O’Toole moved on to gentler roles in movies like Lassie, Christmas Cottage, Stardust, and Ratatouille.  He published his memoirs (Loitering with Intent: the Child) and was interviewed on various programs.  Finally in 2012, he announced his retirement from acting.

With his passing last week at the age of 81, we’ve lost an actor like few others.  His performances can still give a younger generation lessons in commanding screen presence and style.