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Peter O’Toole

By Michael Freedland

The late, great actor Peter O’Toole achieved enduring fame for his iconic performance in Lawrence of Arabia. The film won seven Academy Awards, including a nomination for O’Toole, and still ranks high in lists of all time greatest movies.

Born in England in 1932, but of Irish descent, O’Toole formed part of the cohort of working class actors who rose to fame in the UK in the nineteen sixties and seventies. He grew up in Leeds, and left school at sixteen to work as a copy boy, then completing his National Service in the navy. After a life changing trip to Stratford, where he watched the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Macbeth, he conceived a determination to act. He won a scholarship to prestigious acting school RADA, where he trained with Albert Finney and Alan Bates.

Originally published in 1984, this meticulously researched study by bestselling biographer Michael Freedland became the first definitive account of the actor’s life and career. O’Toole was as much known for his hell-raising lifestyle – and his unforgettable good looks – as his immense talent. Along with fellow actors of his generation, a legend of hard drinking and partying was built up around him. But in fact he was a driven and dedicated actor. Freedland gets right to the heart of the man with the piercing blue eyes. He describes the pain when his actress wife Sian Phillips divorced him. There were other women of course, but none of them ever captured his wild spirit. And he highlights the close relationship with his son, Lorcan, who brought O’Toole’s dying mother by ambulance to see her son’s first performance of Macbeth.

Peter O’Toole will go down in history as one of the great stage and film actors of the twentieth century. He received numerous awards, including eight Oscar nominations, and in 2002 was given an Academy Honorary Award for lifetime achievement. He was offered a knighthood in Britain but rejected it in objection to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policies. His mercurial personality, his talent and his intense charisma, in a career marked alternately by brilliance, failure and personal excess, are perfectly captured in this immensely readable biography.

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