I was saddened to discover yesterday that Peter O’Toole had died over the weekend in London at the age of 81. He was definitely a favorite of mine. The Irish-born actor was famous for his partying and brawling alongside his longtime chum Richard Harris, but first and foremost was legend on the stage and on the screen, casting a magnificent presence into all his roles. And what great roles they were- the ethereal Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, his comic twist as Allan Swann in My Favorite Year and my favorites, two times as King Henry II in Beckett and in The Lion In Winter.
O’Toole holds a dubious record , being the most nominated best actor ( 8 times) without ever winning the Oscar. I can’t fault most of the winning choices in the years that he lost. Most were incredible performances such as Marlon Brando in 1972′s The Godfather, Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady in 1964, John Wayne in True Grit in 1969, Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull in 1980, and Ben Kingsley in Gandhi in 1982. All of these are legendary roles. Even his loss to Forrest Whitaker in 2006′s The Last King of Scotland is understandable.
No, the one where his performance was by far the greatest of that year (and most others in my opinion) was in 1968 when he portrayed Henry II in The Lion in Winter. He lost to Cliff Robertson in Charly, which was a great role and a fine movie, the film version of Flowers For Algernon. I take nothing away from Cliff Robertson but O’Toole’s portrayal was one for the ages, matched as he was with Katherine Hepburn and a young Anthony Hopkins. It’s a film that I cannot help but watching whenever it comes on. O’Toole is mesmerizing in that film, just dominating the screen. He was truly the Lion in that film.
I think I’ll watch it again today just to see him roar once more.
Here’s a taste: