Entertainment & Arts

Tributes paid to Lawrence of Arabia star Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia
Image caption O'Toole was 30 when he played Lawrence of Arabia

Tributes have been paid to actor Peter O'Toole, the star of the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia, who died on Saturday aged 81.

He had been in hospital where he was being treated for a long illness.

Sir Michael Gambon, who appeared with O'Toole when he played Hamlet in the National Theatre's first production in 1963, said: "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."

O'Toole's daughter Kate said the family was overwhelmed "by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us".

Fellow actor Sir John Standing who had been O'Toole's "great, great friend" for more than 60 years, told the BBC he had been lucky enough to work with him five times.

"He was electrifying, which is what made him a star. You wanted to watch him no matter what he did," Sir John said.

"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."

Sir John, whose daughter was O'Toole's goddaughter, continued: "He was an amazingly brave and generous man."

Michael Redwood, who directed O'Toole in one of his final screen roles in the forthcoming British film Katherine of Alexandria, described the actor as "an inspiration to work with".

He added: "He was a guiding light to those who worked with him and is utterly irreplaceable."

A National Theatre statement said: "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."

Image caption O'Toole was 30 when he played Lawrence of Arabia
Image caption O'Toole is seen backstage at the opening night of Hamlet at the Old Vic theatre in London in 1963

'True movie star'

O'Toole began his acting career as an exciting young talent on the British stage and his 1955 performance at the Bristol Old Vic's run of Hamlet was critically acclaimed.

He hit international stardom when Sir David Lean cast him as British adventurer TE Lawrence, the World War One soldier and scholar who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks.

He was almost as famous for his drinking and antics off stage, and was "one of life's great livers" according to Sir John.

"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."

He added: "The fact that I'm never ever going to see him again is dreadful."

Irish President Michael D Higgins said, "Ireland, and the world, has lost one of the giants of film and theatre."

Image caption Peter O'Toole starred with Audrey Hepburn in 1965's comedy How to Steal a Million

He added: "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 July 2012, after a career spanning 50 years and at the age of 79, O'Toole said he was retiring from the stage and screen.

Film critic Barry Norman described him as a "true movie star", who had "tremendous charisma".

'The greatest company'

Actor, director and broadcaster Stephen Fry tweeted: "Oh what terrible news. Farewell Peter O'Toole. I had the honour of directing him in a scene. Monster, scholar, lover of life, genius …"

Writer and actor David Walliams recalled his memories of the actor, saying: "Matt (Lucas) & 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."

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Media captionSir John Standing: Peter was a 'true star'

The Shield star Michael Chiklis added O'Toole was the "original, hard drinking, classic, actor's actor", saying: "The piercing blue eyes of Lawrence of Arabia will never fade", while fellow US actor Neil Patrick Harris added: "Lucky to have worked with him for a month in Prague. Wonderful man, remarkable talent."

Journalist Piers Morgan also paid tribute, tweeting: "RIP Peter O'Toole. Spent one of the funniest days of my life with him at Lord's a few years ago. A brilliant actor and crazy, hilarious man."

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said his thoughts were with O'Toole's family and friends, adding the actor's performance "in my favourite film, Lawrence of Arabia, was stunning".

Your comments

I worked for Peter for eight years as his housekeeper. He was a very eccentric man who was also very generous. He was fabulous to work with, he never stopped working and was always busy. He helped me find a flat in London, allowing me to keep the deposit he'd given me, saying that it was a house warming present; he also helped me to furnish it. While I worked with him I always referred to him as sir and never Peter. I left the the job in 1988 and that was the last time I saw him. John McKenzie from London

I once played cricket against him at a ground in Harrow, Middlesex. When coming on to bowl his setting his field was like an amateur production of a play. "Charles dear might I suggest you move to the slips; Hugo darling, perhaps a step or two sinister; Denis, straighten your cap there's a good chap" etc. His first ball was struck sweetly for six where upon Peter exclaimed "Oh Lord! We didn't expect that did we"? Very entertaining, especially when he actually got a wicket. Peter Olsen from Hong Kong

Mr. O'Toole was at Waterstones bookstore in Boston, Massachusetts to sign copies of his first volume of autobiography. He was puffing on a long cigarette holder wearing his green socks. I managed to tell him that I had seen "Lawrence" at least 25 times but had also seen him on stage in "Pygmalion" and had seen all of his movies, even "The Savage Innocents". He threw his head back with delight, said "Ha!" quite emphatically, and then looked at me and said, "You are a true sufferer!" I cherish my autograph, but even more I cherish that reaction. He was truly an original and memorable artist. Susan Zawalich from Watertown, Massachusetts

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