Actor Peter O'Toole, 81, dies after long illness

British actor Peter O'Toole arrives at the opening night gala of the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival...

British actor Peter O'Toole arrives at the opening night gala of the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival featuring a screening of a restoration of 'An American In Paris' in Hollywood, California April 28, 2011. (REUTERS/Fred Prouser)

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:51 PM ET

The last of the great British hellraisers has departed.

Peter O'Toole, 81, has died after a long illness, one year after retiring and saying it was time for him to, "Chuck in the sponge," and leave acting. The actor was one of a hard-drinking, hard-partying crowd that included fellow U.K.-born actors Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter Finch and Oliver Reed, all of whom predeceased him.

(As O'Toole once described their lifestyle, "We heralded the '60s. "Me, Burton, Richard Harris; we did in public what everyone else did in private then, and does for show now. We drank in public, we knew about pot.")

O'Toole became famous in David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia in 1962. In the role of T.E. Lawrence, the actor made an indelible impression on a generation of filmgoers and became an instant star; O'Toole won the first of his eight Academy Award nominations for the movie. (His performance in Lawrence Of Arabia was #1 in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time list.)

O'Toole starred in dozens of big movies in the course of his career, winning Oscar nominations for Becket (1964), The Lion In Winter (1968), Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class (1972), The Stunt Man (1980) and My Favorite Year (1982). He received an honorary Oscar in 2003, but then went on to earn another nomination, his eighth and last, for the film Venus in 2006. Those eight nominations with no wins is a record.

O'Toole was born to an Irish father and a Scots mother and grew up in the north of England. He flirted briefly with a career in journalism as a teenager but was already interested in theatre, making his debut at 17. After two years in the Royal Navy, he auditioned for RADA and was accepted, winning a scholarship at the time.

O'Toole made his feature film debut in Kidnapped in 1960.

The actor's health struggles began in the 1970s when stomach cancer forced him to quite drinking. Besides that gesture, he never appeared to change his lifestyle very much. Far taller than most actors at 6-foot-2, O'Toole was famous for his very blue eyes, his wild ways and his rakish fashion sense -- which always included green socks, a nod to his superstitions.

The actor had three children. He and his wife of 20 years, Sian Phillips, had two daughters, Pat and Kate (Kate O'Toole is an actress) and the actor also had a son, Lorcan, from his relationship with Karen Somerville. His daughter Kate O'Toole has thanked the public for their outpouring of affection for the actor; a celebration of O'Toole's life will take place at a later date.

Fans should know that despite his much-publicized retirement, O'Toole has a role in the upcoming 2014 film Katherine Of Alexandria, an historical epic which co-stars Joss Ackland and Edward Fox.


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