“I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony.”
A formidable actor and raconteur of immense charisma, O’Toole was a force of nature who makes the male actors of today seem pale and neutered by comparison. Born in Connemara (?), raised in Leeds, a RADA graduate whose reputation as a singular performer of Shakespearean characters led to the movie role which announced him on the world stage, that of dashing, intrepid Word War I army officer T.E. Lawrence in David Lean‘s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. It was the role of a lifetime and one for which O’Toole with his piercing blue eyes, blonde locks and commanding screen presence became synonymous.
The actor’s relationship with alcohol has been well documented leading to health problems which affected his career and took a noticeable toll on the actor in his later years but O’Toole was an unapologetic celebrator of life and seemed to revel in living his life to the fullest which is to say that none of this considerable carousing with close friends Richard Burton and Richard Harris seemed to affect nor diminish the fire and the fury of his performances even in such late career nadir and trifles such as Supergirl(1984), High Spirits (1988) and King Ralph (1991).
Looking back, it seems that the actors career momentum was at its peak during a ten-year period from the year Lawrence conquered the publics imagination up until the commercial compromise of 1972’s Man of La Mancha, portraying the title character in an ill-conceived Hollywood film musical version of Miguel Cervante’s Don Quixote. During those years, O’Toole amassed five Oscar nominations as Best Actor, showing his range in everything from comedy capers such as What’s New Pussycat? (1965) and How to Steal a Million (1966), high brow theatrical and literary adaptations such as Becket (1964) and Lord Jim (1965) and biblical epics with John Hustons outsized follyThe Bible: In The Beginning (1966).
The 1970’s were mostly a fallow period, the aforementioned health issues and lackluster film projects curtailing the actors career somewhat though at the as the 1980’s dawned, he came back with one of his signature performances in Richard Rush’s meta movie industry black comedy The Stuntman, portraying the crazed, eccentric, Faustian film director Eli Cross. The film earned O’Toole yet another Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Over the remaining three decades of his life, the roles rarely matched his talent, the notable exceptions being 1982’s valentine to old school movie actors, My Favourite Year, a supporting role in Bernardo Bertolucci‘s The Last Emperor (1987) and 2006’s elegiac character pieceVenus.
Mr O’Toole’s talk show appearances and interviews soon eclipsed his onscreen persona; that beautiful speaking voice, vigorous intelligence, rebellious personality, sly wit and storytelling ability enlivening many a late night talk show arena and interview forum.