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."

 

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