by Sam Juliano
One of the most celebrated of screen legends the actor Peter O’Toole passed away early Sunday at age 81. Rightly and primarily best known for his lead role in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, O’Toole was one of the most gifted and versatile of thespians, but through a quirk of fate and timing his eight Oscar nominations never resulted in a single win. Of course such a statistical aberration says more than what we need to know about AMPAS, who similarly failed to award Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Edward G. Robinson and Claude Rains, despite multiple nominations. O’Toole nearly turned down a lifetime achievement Oscar after he turned 79, as he felt he was “still in the game, and might still win that bugger.”
While O’Toole’s loss to Gregory Peck in 1962 is at least understandable (both men gave towering performances, O’Toole in Lawrence and Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird, it is rather absurd that his extraordinary turn as Henry II in The Lion in Winter lost out to Cliff Robertson in Charley. It is also ridiculous that both he and Burton lost their bids for 1964′s Becket to Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady, even if Harrison was quite good in the musical, as he was. O’Toole really never had a chance in 1972 for The Ruling Class, what with Marlon Brando in The Godfather and Sir Laurence Olivier in Sleuth in the mix, but I could have well given O’Toole my vote anyway for his unforgettable turn as the deranged 14th Earl of Gurney. His last chance came in 2006, and frankly he was again ripped off, losing out for his partially comedic role in Venus to Forest Whitaker for his role of Idi Amin in the overrated The Last King of Scotland.
Yet O’Toole was the darling of critics groups and audiences, and he was consistently ranked as one of the greatest of actors. In real life he was a drinker, smoker and womanizer, who believed you only live once, yet he was well-loved by his peers, had three children with two wives, and maintained a wry sense of humor. When the subject of truly great actors comes up this titan of his craft will always be mentioned near the top of the names, and he will be forever be in the hearts of movie-lovers for his body of incomparable work. He was a superstar in every sense.