RIP Peter O'Toole

It can scarcely have escaped your attention that the great actor Peter O'Toole passed away three days ago aged 81, following a long illness. Tributes have been pouring in from all sides, and doubtless Lawrence of Arabia will see something of a rise in sales as people re-examine the role which made him famous.
Being a few days behind the pack, there's not much point me listing off O'Toole's great performances, of which T. E. Lawrence was but one. Having only really come across him in his autumn years, through the likes of Stardust and Ratatouille, I'm still discovering many of the great films he made as a younger man. I could talk about his working relationship with David Lean, or his record of having the most Oscar nominations without ever winning (save for the honorary award he received in 2003). But all of that has been said already by far better writers, many of whom actually knew him.
What O'Toole's death signifies to me, more than anything else, is the passing of an age in acting - or two ages, to be exact. In the first instance, O'Toole was one of the last great screen actors who learnt his craft in the theatre, for the theatre. Like his contemporary Paul Scofield (he of A Man For All Seasons), O'Toole always believed in learning and renewing one's craft on the stage, believing that "good parts make good actors". That said, he was no rose-tinted luvvie, using one of his many appearances on Charlie Rose to rant about the architecture of the National Theatre.
The second age that passes with O'Toole is that pf the actor-as-hellraiser. Sure, Hollywood actors will continue to make mistakes and end up in the tabloids (Colin Farrell especially), but O'Toole was part of a close company of actors who still put all others to shame. O'Toole, Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed were men whose acting ability was matched only by their capacity for drink. These were people who could drink an entire pub dry in one sitting, and then turn up the next morning and hit every mark with every line perfect. It's hard to condone their alcoholism and rampant womanising, but it's also a reminder of how dull life can be when everyone plays by the rules.

So, as you ponder this and go seeking out his back catalogue, I shall leave you in the hands of Stephen Fry, with one of my favourite stories about O'Toole's. RIP.