We lost one of the greats over the weekend, not just in the world of acting but in the dwindling world of Great Men. That term gets tossed around a lot; “He was a Great Man.” Mr. O’Toole really was. I know a little bit about him firsthand, as his daughter, the actress Kate O’Toole, has been one of my closest friends for nearly 20 years now. She’s a gem too, cut from the same stone as her father, whom she dearly loved. In 2007, I was lucky enough to hang out with Kate and her father in LA during Oscar week, when he was nominated, having never won, for his role in Venus. The following night at a birthday dinner he threw for Kate (a rare occurrence, as NO ONE in their family ever celebrates their birthday) someone broke the ice and said that he had been robbed of the Oscar. He said he KNEW he wouldn’t win. “I’m the son of a bookie. The odds were NOT in my favor.” I was seated next to him at that dinner and it was truly a thrill just hearing that voice just order Mexican food. He told me this elaborate story of visiting a guru high in some exotic locale while filming some film or another, with the names of sherpas, camera operators and obscure towns listed with all minute details of the trek. At one point, having gone to an ashram for years, I interrupted him to ask, “What was the Guru’s name?” He looked at me, as if I was an idiot, and said, “HOW SHOULD I KNOW?” Lesson learned – don’t interrupt!
There are tons of tributes, videos and obituaries circulating now. But if you want a good dose of P O’T, just watch his movie performances – he’s still living there in them. A few years back, Premiere magazine counted down the greatest onscreen performances of all time, and yep, there he was at number one forLawrence of Arabia. If you’ve never seen it, do. Epic doesn’t cover it. And to bring it all full-circle, seeVenus. He was never better. In his autobiography, he writes that his acting style was a recipe that combined “magic” with “sweat,” a matter of allowing a text to flow into his mind and body until he fully inhabited the character — “that simple, that difficult.” He also admitted to being “a very physical actor. I use everything — toes, teeth, ears, everything!”
If you doubt any of the charms of the man described here, just watch this clip from the 2003 Oscars, where Meryl Streep introduces a mind-blowing array of his film clips, gives him his honorary Oscar and finally, Peter delivers one of THE most gracious acceptance speeches EVER. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcBXur1Ask4
In Christopher Plummer’s biography, he summed up his friend perfectly, I think; “Peter O’Toole is truly one of the great personalities of our time… Fiercely intelligent, with a Shavian wit, he is also the most incurable of romantics—far more than I could ever hope to be. Though he was supposedly born near the Cliffs of Connemara, he unquestionably comes from another world altogether. Where that world is I cannot be sure, but I’ll hazard a guess it is hovering happily somewhere in the air above the mists of Avalon.”