The Irish-born actor Peter O’Toole, whose most famous role was playing T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, announced Tuesday that he is retiring from films and the theater. With his beautiful, blue eyes and blond hair, he cut a very dashing figure in David Lean’s British epic, inspiring Noel Coward to tell him, “If you’d been any prettier, it would have been ‘Florence of Arabia.’”
Mr. O’Toole in his retirement statement, which he issued through his publicist yesterday, stated that he was retiring because “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. Ever, Peter O’Toole.”
Mr. O’Toole, who will be 80 next month, fell in love with the theater after he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art following a stint in the Navy. On stage, he was particularly acclaimed for his Shakespearian roles, including Shylock in the Merchant of Venice and Hamlet.
Later he turned to film, which brought him international acclaim as a movie star. Some of his most famous movies include Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Lion in Winter, My Favorite Year, The Ruling Class, and The Stuntman. There have also been some turkeys, like Troy in 2004.
He has been nominated for eight Academy awards, beginning with Lawrence of Arabia. He holds the dubious distinction of most competitive Academy Award acting nominations without winning.
Peter O’Toole has won a BAFTA Award, four Golden Globes, an Emmy and many other theatre and cinema awards, including The Olivier Award in 2000. In 2003, he finally received a little gold statue from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences although it was an Honorary Oscar.
His most recent Oscar nomination was in 2006, for Venus, a jewel of a movie directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill and The Mother), co-starring Vanessa Redgrave, in which he plays Maurice, an elderly, second-rate actor contemplating the end of his life even as he becomes obsessed with a 19 year-old (Jodie Whittaker). More recently, he was the voice Anton Ego in Ratatouille (2007) and he appeared in the tv series The Tudors in 2008.
On a personal note, we saw him at the premiere of Troy and at a special screening of The Tudors and we recollect that he seemed to enjoy lifting a drink and telling a good story.
Back in 2006, at a screening of Venus, at the Museum of Modern Art, Natasha Richardson - who was to die so tragically three years later – recounted some memories she had of Mr. O’Toole.
She said she met him when she was in the West End of London playing Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull, her first big theater role.
“I knew Peter O’Toole was in the house,” Ms. Richardson said, “and he came backstage and said, ‘Darling, did you feel like you were flying tonight? Did you feel you could do anything?’ and he scooped me in his arms,” she said, “and I fell madly in love,” she told me, adding, “He’s always been larger than life. Remember the line in ‘My Favorite Year,’ where he says, ‘I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star.’ That’s him.”