LONDON — Known on the one hand for his starring role in "Lawrence of Arabia," leading tribesmen in daring attacks across the desert wastes, and on the other for his headlong charges into drunken debauchery, Peter O'Toole was one of the most magnetic, charismatic and fun figures in British acting.
O'Toole, who died Saturday at age 81 at the private Wellington Hospital in London after a long bout of illness, was nominated a record eight times for an Academy Award without taking home a single statue.
He was fearsomely handsome, with burning blue eyes and a penchant for hard living which long outlived his decision to give up alcohol. Broadcaster Michael Parkinson told Sky News television it was hard to be too sad about his passing.
Peter O'Toole (1932-2013)
In this undated photo, actor Peter O'Toole is shown. O'Toole, the charismatic actor who achieved instant stardom as Lawrence of Arabia and was nominated eight times for an Academy Award, has died. He was 81. O'Toole's agent Steve Kenis says the actor died Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 at a hospital following a long illness. (AP Photo/File)
In this Feb. 5, 1963 file photo, Actor Peter O'Toole plays the guitar during a photocall on February 5, 1963 at the Phoenix Theater in London. (AP Photo)
In this Aug. 30, 1965 file photo, Actor Peter O'Toole poses for a scene from his new film named "How to Steal a Million Dollars and Live Happily Ever After" during shooting in France. (AP Photo)
This 1965 file photo released by 20th Century Fox shows actor Peter O'Toole in a scene from "How to Steal a Million Dollars and Live Happily Ever After." (AP Photo/Twentieth Century-Fox)
In this April 11, 2011 file photo, Actor Peter O'Toole places his handprints in cement as he is honored during the TCM Classic Film Festival at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)
In this July 27, 1974 file photo, Actor Peter O'Toole, right, speaks to film director Otto Preminger, during shooting of "Rosebud" in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Eustache Cardenas)
In this April 30, 2011 file photo, Actor Peter O’Toole, center, waves to fans as his son Lorcan O'Toole, right, looks on as Peter O’Toole is honored during the TCM Classic Film Festival at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)
In this Feb 25, 2007 file photo, actor Peter O'Toole, left, nominated for an Oscar for best actor in a leading role for his work in "Venus," arrives with his daughter Kate for the 79th Academy Awards in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
In this March 23, 2003 file photo, Peter O'Toole appears backstage without his Oscar after receiving the Academy Award's Honorary Award during the 75th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
This undated photo shows actor Peter O'Toole.
"Peter didn't leave much of life unlived, did he?" he said.
A reformed — but unrepentant — hell-raiser, O'Toole long suffered from ill health. Always thin, he had grown wraithlike in later years, his famously handsome face eroded by years of outrageous drinking.
But nothing diminished his flamboyant manner and candor.
"If you can't do something willingly and joyfully, then don't do it," he once said. "If you give up drinking, don't go moaning about it; go back on the bottle. Do. As. Thou. Wilt."
O'Toole began his acting career as one of the most exciting young talents on the British stage. His 1955 "Hamlet," at the Bristol Old Vic, was critically acclaimed.
International stardom came in David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia." With only a few minor movie roles behind him, O'Toole was unknown to most moviegoers when they first saw him as T.E. Lawrence, the mythic British World War I soldier and scholar who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks.