After completing his national service in the Royal Navy, O’Toole joined the famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1952 to 1954. His classmates there included Albert Finney and Alan Bates.
He began his career on the stage with the ‘Bristol Old Vic Theater’. Before long, he established himself as a gifted actor, he was especially known for his portrayal of the title character in Shakespeare's ‘Hamlet’.
He made it to the big screen in 1960, playing small roles in the films ‘The Savage Innocents’, ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘The Day They Robbed the Bank of England’.
In 1962, he was hired by director Sir David Lean to play the title character in the drama ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
The following year, O'Toole demonstrated his range as an actor with leading roles in ‘Lord Jim’, a drama based on the novel of the same name and the Woody Allen comedy ‘What's New Pussycat?’.
In 1968, O'Toole gave a stellar performance in a historical drama ‘Lion in Winter’. He played England's King Henry II in this movie, which earned him another Oscar nomination.
He fulfilled a lifetime ambition in 1970 when he performed on stage in Samuel Beckett's ‘Waiting for Godot’, at Dublin's Abbey Theatre.
The following year, O'Toole landed the lead role in a more contemporary yet equally acclaimed film, ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips’, playing a shy teacher who becomes smitten with a showgirl. He was nominated for an ‘Academy Award’ as ‘Best Actor’.
In 1972, he played both Miguel de Cervantes and his fictional creation Don Quixote in ‘Man of La Mancha’, the motion picture adaptation of hit Broadway musical. The film was a commercial failure and was criticized for using mostly non-singing actors.
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O'Toole continued to show that he was clearly capable of great transformations on screen with 1972's ‘The Ruling Class’, in which he appeared as a mentally disturbed English aristocrat who believes that he is Jesus Christ.
When his career was at its peak, he had issues with heavy drinking. In 1975, he landed in hospital and subsequently underwent surgery. His stomach cancer was misdiagnosed as tumor resulting from his alcoholic excess. O'Toole underwent surgery in 1976 to have his pancreas and a large portion of his stomach removed, which resulted in insulin-dependent diabetes. Soon after, O'Toole quit drinking.
Before this incident, O'Toole's career had been a downward spiral. He made some poor choices, especially the gory and explicit Roman era flop ‘Caligula’. After some delay, the film was finally released in 1980 to scathing reviews.
O'Toole managed to overcome his personal challenges to return to top form as an actor. He starred in another Oscar-nominated role, as an egomaniacal director in ‘The Stunt Man’ in 1980, and again won rave reviews for his portrayal of a beloved and wild film star in ‘My Favorite Year’ in 1982.
He also appeared in 1987's ‘The Last Emperor’.
In 1989, he received mixed reviews for his performance in ‘Man and Superman’ and in ‘Pygmalion’, and won a ‘Laurence Olivier Award’ for his performance in ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’.
O'Toole won an Emmy Award in 1999 for his work on the television miniseries ‘Joan of Arc’.
In 2004, he played King Priam in the blockbuster movie ‘Troy’.
In 2005, he appeared on television as the older version of legendary 18th century Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova in drama serial ‘Casanova’.
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In 2006, O'Toole received Oscar nomination for his performance in ‘Venus’. He played a mature actor who develops a platonic relationship with a much younger woman.
O'Toole co-starred in the animated film ‘Ratatouille’ released in 2007.
The actor returned to the small screen in 2008, portraying Pope Paul III who excommunicates King Henry VIII from the church in the successful drama serial ‘The Tudors’. The same year he starred in New Zealand/British film ‘Dean Spanley’.
In 2012, after more than 50 years as an acclaimed actor, O'Toole announced his retirement.
O'Toole wrote two memoirs. ‘Loitering With Intent: The Child’ based on his childhood memories in the years leading up to World War II. His second, ‘Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice’, is about his years spent training with friends at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1959, he married Welsh actress Siân Phillips, with whom he had two daughters, Kate and Patricia. The couple got divorced in 1979.
O'Toole and his girlfriend, model Karen Brown had a son, Lorcan, who is also an actor.
After battling a long illness, O'Toole died at the age of 81 in a London hospital on December 14, 2013.