Peter O'Toole: Tales of the late film icon

Peter O'Toole, who has died aged 81, possessed a prodigious acting talent, heart-stopping good looks, and an enormous capacity for booze. Here, he is remembered by those who knew him

Michael Caine, who had been his understudy for the 1959 play 'The Long and the Short and the Tall' at the Royal Court Theatre went out to dinner with O'Toole and woke up in a strange flat days later.

"There was a wild weekend that I don't remember… 'What time is it?' I asked. 'Never mind what time it is,' said O'Toole. 'What fucking day is it?'

Kevin Loader, producer, 'Venus'

"When Roger Michell and I were trying to entice Peter O'Toole to star in Venus in 2006, there was one aspect of our working method we knew would be difficult: the complete absence of American-style winnebagos which many of Peter's generation had come to accept as the necessary comforts for their profession. Would the man who had played Lawrence be prepared to rough it and change in a disused costume warehouse in Kentish Town, and be bussed to set with the crew every day?

We pitched our preference for the no-frills, no trailer way of working; Peter listened, thought, and then told us of a small tent he had seen a sound recordist use in Canada – a one-man shelter that resembled nothing more than the manhole marquees used by telephone engineers. He said his old bones would need some protection from the winter wind and weather, and promised that if we found a similar tent, put a chair and calor-gaz heater in it, he would use it on-set to keep warm between takes and scenes... Peter was a baffling combination of trouper, snob, old-fashioned film star, charmer, thinker, and monstrous ego; but what never baffled was the brilliance of his work, and by the end of Venus Roger, Hanif Kureishi and I were pleased to think we had captured one of his last great performances. He was Oscar-nominated for the final time, and, sadly, failed to win. History will view it differently."

Jodie Whittaker, actress, 'Venus'

"It is such sad news about Peter; my love and thoughts go to his family and friends. I feel incredibly humbled and grateful to have shared the screen in the film Venus with such a mesmerising and talented human being, and I will treasure those memories for the rest of my life. It took over three weeks from the first audition to the final audition… I knew we'd been narrowed down to about three, and Peter was there for that audition. I'd been forewarned because it's terrifying to just have Peter O'Toole sitting there, but within seconds of meeting him he made me feel completely at ease so the audition went really well... I sat with him in between scenes all the time to chat… You couldn't see his script for the notes that he did on that. That was so exciting – to know that no matter how much experience you've got, how old you are, how many people you've worked with in this industry – that you still want to work hard and to push yourself."

Sir Michael Gambon, who appeared with O'Toole, playing Hamlet, in the National Theatre's first production in 1963

"He was a great actor. His early years were the best I thought. He was great fun to be with. He will be missed badly."

Sean Bean, who starred with him in 'Troy'

"The first time I met him on the set, he was in a robe with a cigarette holder and he said: 'Sean, how are you, dear boy?' He was just how I imagined him to be."

Timothy West, actor and former artistic director of the Old Vic

"On my return, I was shown the Macbeth contract, which had only just been returned by Peter's lawyers. I was astounded to see that O'Toole had been given total artistic control over the production. This arrangement is a sure recipe for dissent if not disaster… The audience were at first bewildered by what they saw, then there were some giggles, and when Peter appeared after the murder drenched in blood from head to foot, there was a burst of laughter."

Noël Coward, playwright (speaking after the release of 'Lawrence of Arabia')

"If he'd been any more beautiful they'd have had to rename it Florence of Arabia."

Michael Parkinson, entertainer

"He didn't leave much of life unlived, did he?"

Sir John Standing, O'Toole's great friend for more than 60 years

"He was electrifying, which is what made him a star. You wanted to watch him no matter what he did. He was brilliantly funny as well. He couldn't wait to make you, either on stage or off stage, laugh. He was a delight to work with...He was an amazingly brave and generous man. He was larger than life and not frightened – he was fearless. We got up to some rare old tricks together in Dublin, you know. When you find a sort of kindred spirit who is prepared to go to crazy lengths, it's very cool to be with him."

Michael D Higgins, Irish President

"I have heard with great sadness of the passing of Peter O'Toole. Ireland, and the world, has lost one of the giants of film and theatre… I was privileged to know him as a friend since 1969. I spent part of 1979 in Clifden where we met almost daily and all of us who knew him in the West will miss his warm humour and generous friendship… In a long list of leading roles on stage and in film, Peter brought an extraordinary standard to bear as an actor. He was unsurpassed for the grace he brought to every performance on and off the stage."

David Cameron, Prime Minister

"My thoughts are with Peter O'Toole's family and friends. His performance in my favourite film, Lawrence of Arabia, was stunning."

Stephen Fry, actor and writer

"Oh what terrible news. Farewell Peter O'Toole. I had the honour of directing him in a scene. Monster, scholar, lover of life, genius... "

Barry Norman, film critic

"A true movie star who had tremendous charisma."

Peter Hall, director, who spotted him as Hamlet at the Bristol Old Vic

"I could see the spark of genius."

Nicholas Hytner, Director of the National Theatre

"We are very sorry to hear of Peter O'Toole's death, particularly coming so soon after the National's 50th anniversary prompted widespread recollection of his memorable performance as Hamlet in the NT's opening production at the Old Vic in 1963."

David Walliams, comedian

"Matt [Lucas] and I had drinks with Peter O'Toole in LA a few years ago. He was hugely entertaining. The greatest company. A legend on screen and off."

Michael Billington, reviewing 'Macbeth' (Old Vic, 1980)

"He delivers every line with a monotonous tenor bark as if addressing an audience of deaf Eskimos."

Sheridan Smith, actress

"So sad about the death of the incredible Peter O'Toole :( He saw a play I did last year and sent me and all the cast presents after. A true gent!"

David Tennant, who appeared with him in 'Casanova'

"I only had one day filming with him and he was exactly what you want Peter O'Toole to be, the most extraordinary presence and full of ridiculous tales – he was glorious. I got a photo of us together and I still keep it on my fridge.'

Sian Phillips, actress and former wife, who watched their country cottage in Wales burn down after O'Toole cooked French toast

"We've lost a legendary actor and a heroic man. My thoughts and prayers are with the children."

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company provides global satellite communi...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Ashdown Group: HR Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen