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Hellraising: A toast to Peter O'Toole

We mark the retirement of one of acting's legends with some of his finest moments of boozy mayhem
  • @gillian_orr

Peter O'Toole has announced his retirement from acting at the age of 79, saying, "I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell." Before he gave up drinking for health reasons, the Lawrence of Arabia thesp was famous for the unbridled excess he enjoyed with his cohorts, Richard Harris, Richard Burton and Oliver Reed. To celebrate a career like none other, here are a few of the great man's finest off-stage moments, some of which sound too good to be true...

* After being cast as a cockney sergeant in The Long and the Short and the Tall, which opened in London in 1959, O'Toole was understudied by Michael Caine, who he took out one night to a restaurant. Caine awoke in a strange flat and asked O'Toole what the time was. He allegedly replied, "Never mind what time it is, what f***ing day is it?" Evidently it was 5pm. Two days later.

* Due to his erratic driving, a number of people refused to be a passenger in O'Toole's car. He attempted to drive his future wife, actress Sian Phillips, to Rome for a last-minute holiday. They ended up in Yugoslavia.

* When filming 1960's Kidnapped, he became friends with the Australian actor Peter Finch, also a fond boozer. When they were refused a drink after closing time during a session at an Irish pub, they wrote a cheque to buy the pub so they could have another drink. Having sobered up the next day, they rushed back to cancel their purchase.

* They ended up befriending the landlord, even attending his funeral. While sobbing as the casket was lowered, the pair soon realised they were at the wrong funeral. Their pal was being buried 100 yards away.

* While filming a scene on a lake for 1968's The Lion In Winter, O'Toole caught his finger in a boating accident, taking the tip off. Back on shore, he dipped the detached part into a glass of brandy then pushed it back on, wrapping it in a poultice. Removing the bandage weeks later, he realised he had put it on the wrong way and blamed the brandy for his mishap.

* When an assistant went to fetch the actor from his dressing room on the set of 1968's Great Catherine, he found no sign of life but a television blaring out horse racing that was going on nearby. The camera zoomed in, and there was O'Toole, cheering on the steeds. A car was sent to bring him back to work.

* In the 1970s, he reportedly went out for lunch with friends, accompanied by several bottles of wine. Later on that evening the group decided to take in a play but when they got to their seats, O'Toole realised he was supposed to be in the show.

* O'Toole regularly had to break into his house because of his refusal to carry keys (he never carried a wallet or wore a watch either). He had to explain to police, on more than one occasion, why he was climbing through windows.

* He appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1995, arriving on stage atop a camel and smoking a cigarette from an elegant holder. After dismounting, he informed the host, "my noble transport is a little thirsty", and duly fed the beast a can of beer.