Remembering Peter O’Toole: Five roles we won’t soon forget

Actor Peter O'Toole in an undated photo. The actor died Saturday in London.
(Associated Press)

Peter O’Toole, the legendary star of stage and screen who shot to stardom with his performance as T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic film “Lawrence of Arabia,” died Saturday at age 81.

The charismatic actor had a career that spanned more than half a century and included eight Academy Award nominations and an honorary Oscar in 2003. So many of his performances moved viewers to laughter and tears. Here are just five that we won’t soon forget.

“Lawrence of Arabia” (1962). This epic ranks No. 7 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest films of all time. O’Toole received his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the real-life British army officer T.E. Lawrence, who was revered for his service during World War I. O’Toole was not director Lean’s first pick to play the role. O’Toole got the role after Albert Finney and Marlon Brando turned it down.

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“The Lion in Winter” (1968). Katharine Hepburn won an Academy Award for her work opposite O’Toole in this historical drama adapted from a Broadway play by James Goldman. O’Toole, who was nominated but lost to Cliff Robertson in “Charly,” plays King Henry II in 1183; Hepburn is his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry has three sons, all of whom want to inherit the throne, but he won’t commit to a choice, which causes his offspring (and wife) to conspire against him. Anthony Hopkins makes his big-screen debut in this film as Richard the Lionheart.

“Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1969). Based on James Hilton’s 1934 novella of the same name, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” stars O’Toole as the shy, uptight Latin teacher, Arthur Chipping, who falls in love with a free-spirited, fun-loving showgirl named Katherine Bridges (Petula Clark). Despite their differences the pair get married and are devoted to each other in the face of obstacles presented by their unlikely union.

“The Ruling Class” (1972). O’Toole displayed the breadth of his talent when he played Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney (Jack Gurney) in this biting satire based on a Peter Barnes stage play. When Jack’s father, Ralph Gurney, dies accidentally of asphyxiation, Jack becomes the 14th Earl of Gurney. This would be well and good except that Gurney is a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks he is Jesus Christ. He dances and sings at inappropriate times and sleeps upright on a cross. O’Toole’s hysterical, sometimes disturbing performance earned him another Oscar nomination and has since become a cult classic.

“My Favorite Year” (1982). This comedy finds O’Toole playing a riotous former matinee idol, Alan Swann. As the era of television dawns, Swann is mostly washed up. He’s also a fall-down drunk. Mark Linn-Baker plays Benjy Stone, a young comedy writer for a television variety show. Stone idolizes Swann, and when Swann’s alcoholism threatens his chance at appearing on the show, Stone promises to keep him sober in the week leading to his guest spot. Today the film holds the rare distinction of having a 100% “fresh rating” on Rotten Tomatoes.


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