Peter O'Toole's downward spiral from one of England's greatest actors to a raging alcoholic nursed by Katharine Hepburn and cut off from his friendship with Richard Burton by Liz Taylor when she found them in a drunken embrace
- Peter O'Toole - one of England's greatest actors - nearly drank himself to death as he partied his way through the best years of his career
- But O'Toole recognized his own alcohol addiction and suffered through horrendous hangovers and severe stomach pains for his acting career
- He was married to actress Siân Phillips for 20 years, but they divorced when she could no longer handle his drinking or abuse
- He later moved on to model Karen Brown, who was 15 years his junior
- Liz Taylor pulled the plug on their friendship in 1972 when she found O'Toole and Burton drunk on the floor of a pub embracing each other
- O'Toole retired in 2012 to his home in Ireland as a 'ravaged shell of a man' - he died the following year
- Author Robert Sellers reveals tales of O'Toole's life in his new book, Peter O'Toole: The Definitive Biography
Peter O'Toole - one of England's greatest actors - nearly drank himself to death as he partied his way through the best years of his career
Considered one of England's greatest stage and film actors, and a leading man for half a century, Peter O'Toole lived a debauched life of booze, cocaine and weed.
No one expected him to live past 50 years old. He lived 31 years beyond 50.
But by the time he was 48 in 1980, he had almost no stomach left - thanks to his massive consumption of alcohol.
As a young acting student, he could sniff out the best parties like a veteran bloodhound and told a fellow student that he wanted to be dead from drink by 30.
But drinking brought out the dark side of his psyche and he reveled in being a bad boy, reveals author Robert Sellers in his book published for the first time in the United States, Peter O'Toole: The Definitive Biography published Thomas Dunne Books.
He was great friends and drinking buds with actors Richard Harris, his wife Elizabeth, and later Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton - all sharing a love of alcohol until Taylor pulled the plug on their friendship in 1972 when she found O'Toole and Burton drunk on the floor of a pub embracing each other and singing 'Happy Birthday'. They had been there for hours.
O'Toole referred to Elizabeth Taylor henceforth as 'That Woman'.
He also got Audrey Hepburn drunk on the set of the film How to Steal A Million for the first and only time in her career.
When called on to the set, she came out of her trailer, waddled towards the car and drove straight into five huge arc lights. She was sent home to recover.
He was great friends and drinking buds with actors Richard Harris, his wife Elizabeth, and later Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (pictured with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in an undated photograph)
Taylor (pictured with O'Toole in an undated photograph) pulled the plug on their friendship in 1972 when she found O'Toole and Burton drunk on the floor of a pub embracing each other and singing 'Happy Birthday'
Drinking one night with actor Jason Robards in Hollywood after the film Lawrence of Arabia was a hit in 1962, they arrived back at Robards' home only to be surprised by his wife, Lauren Bacall who appeared in hair curlers.
O'Toole howled, 'Yikes, it's a chicken hawk!', which got him forever barred from the couple's house.
On another occasion, O'Toole and Omar Shariff were partying with controversial stand-up comic Lenny Bruce when Bruce's apartment was raided. Bruce was charged with drug possession and O'Toole and Sharif were thrown into a cell.
When Lawrence of Arabia film producer Sam Spiegel heard of these public scandals in Los Angeles, he said: 'You make a star, you make a monster.'
And people in New York and London, too, were getting fed up with O'Toole's antics.
But O'Toole recognized his own alcohol addiction and was willing to ride it through horrendous hangovers and severe stomach pains from ulcers in pursuit of his desire to become a great actor.
And stardom was more cumbersome than he ever expected.
'It creeps through your toes. You don't realize what's happening until it reaches your nut. And that's when it becomes dangerous', O'Toole is quoted to have said.
The film Lawrence of Arabia won seven Oscars but O'Toole lost out on the best actor nod to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird. It was palatable although disappointing to O'Toole.
'A lot of people have talked about being ruined by success. But let's face it, more people have been butchered by failure,' he said.
O'Toole was the center of several drinking scandals while filming for Lawrence of Arabia (pictured in a scene above)
O'Toole was nominated for eight Oscars in total, but he never won. Though in January 2003 the Academy decided to honor him with the Lifetime Achievement Oscar.
'He told them to get lost,' writes Sellers.
'Second prize is no prize,' O'Toole said of the award. 'Would the Academy please defer the honor until I am 80?'
But he relented in the end and accepted the award. When he arrived at the hospitality room and asked for a drink at the bar, however, he was told there was a strict no-alcohol policy.
'All right, I'm f**king off,' he said at the time. A bottle of vodka was quickly brought in to placate him.
The award was going to be presented by Meryl Streep who Sellers says was desperate for a cigarette.
'I wanted a joint,' O'Toole said. 'In the end I just got the vodka going because she's a game girl. Likes a drop'.
Born in Leeds, England, in August 1932, O'Toole had a lifelong love affair with Ireland and always claimed he was an Irishman. He told people he was born in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland.
His father was Irish and that entitled him to full Irish citizenship. He embraced it so heartily and wore green socks every day of his life.
His father, Patrick, called 'Captain, was a bookmaker around the racecourses of Ireland and the north of England, an illegal occupation at the time. He dressed up like a dandy and sat on a stool at the racetrack shouting out the odds.
O'Toole got Audrey Hepburn drunk on the set of the film How to Steal A Million for the first and only time in her career
'The young boy was in absolute awe of his father who always had a cigarette stuck on his lips and his fingers wrapped round a pint of Guinness.'
Nicknamed 'Bubbles' because of his curly golden locks and being a little tubby, O'Toole was plagued by ill health and required a lengthy series of eye operations - eight on one eye alone - and suffered a burst appendix that infected his abdomen during a time before antibiotics and was sent to a hospital's isolation ward to recover.
Taught by Jesuit priests and 'flapping nuns with white, withered hands', the young boy, who wasn't a very good student, found the nuns terrifying but still challenged them.
But he loved the theatricality of the religion's rituals and he viewed serving as an alter boy at mass as his first performance.
He drank with Meryl Streep before the Academy Awards ceremony in 2003
Religion was seeping into his soul and he briefly considered the priesthood after being influenced by one favorite Jesuit tutor.
That fantasy vanished by age 15, when he heard 'tales of priests with wandering hands'.
'It was abominable. I was lucky. I wasn't affected by it. The hard kids put a needle in their trousers so that when the priest went to touch them they got a nasty shock,' the author quotes O'Toole.
Following school, he joined the Royal Navy, 'bulls***ing that he came from a long line of Irish salty sea dogs'.
'I preferred the sea and I vomited over every square inch of it,' he said. 'I would stand alone on deck at night talking to seagulls for hours.'
Arrested for stealing extra rations of rum, he argued it was a cold day, saying 'it was a bloody nightmare'.
In a conversation with the captain, he once said: 'I quite fancy myself either as a poet or an actor'.
And when it was all over, he threw his uniform in the Thames River, recalled his conversation with the captain and set out on his own path in life.
After a series of odd jobs, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
By winter of 1953, in awe he watched Richard Burton performing in King John at London's Old Vic Theater.
That same year he met veteran actor Wilfrid Lawson while traveling in the tube, and Lawson became a mentor with his 'brazen, slightly daft and not giving a f**k for convention', writes Sellers.
He was married to actress Siân Phillips for 20 years, but they divorced when she could no longer handle his drinking or abuse
Lawson was also an alcoholic. O'Toole witnessed 'antics galore', and he was mightily inspired.
During one of Lawson's performances with an actress he took a strong dislike to, just when she was started her big speech, a large puddle of liquid began seeping on the stage distracting the audience.
'Lawson was behind the prop door taking a piss,' Sellers writes.
Years later, O'Toole pulled his own prank on an actress, Wendy Williams. She looked wistfully off into the wings where O'Toole was ready to come on 'when O'Toole methodically and quite deliberately began to undo his fly and produce a hefty and erect phallus'.
She watched with incredulity 'as he proceeded to snip the top off with a pair of scissors and pop it in his mouth, at which point she fainted', writes Sellers.
O'Toole pleaded ignorance and when asked what he was doing, he replied, 'I was eating a banana'.
Acting in the film, The Lion in Winter in 1967, with Katharine Hepburn, the grand dame insisted on calling O'Toole 'pig'.
But it was a love-hate relationship - concerned for his health, she bought him a bike and ordered him to cycle to and from the studio.
O'Toole christened her 'Nags' and unloaded empty liquor bottles in her car one night. When he kept her waiting on the set, she stormed in shouting and punching him hard.
He later apologized, but when he kept the makeup people waiting, she whacked him about the head and screamed, 'You son of a b****'.
When he accidentally cut off the tip of his finger in one scene, he dipped it in brandy and stuffed it back on, wrapping it with poultice. Three weeks later, he discovered he had put it on the wrong way.
Scotch in one hand, ulcer medication in the other and smoking Gauloises cigarettes, it was all bound to take it's toll. O'Toole became so ill he had to be fed water through a tube in his stomach.
Acting in the film, The Lion in Winter in 1967, with Katharine Hepburn, the grand dame insisted on calling O'Toole 'pig'. But it was a love-hate relationship - concerned for his health, she bought him a bike and ordered him to cycle to and from the studio
After falling for Welsh actress Siân Phillips, his leading lady in a touring production of a comedy The Holiday, they realized they were soul mates - except for the fact that she didn't drink.
So O'Toole set off to initiate her into 'the dark arts of boozing', introducing whisky and beer to her and spending evenings in pubs – she sipped the black nectar and he 'quaffed away like a man possessed'.
They married in 1959, and she didn't see the warning signs even when he threw all of her clothing out the window and said she wore too much black and violet.
But she feared for his survival after finding him in the morning intoxicated and asleep in an armchair.
There were rows for hours in which he could be savage in hurtful diatribes that he aimed at her. He objected to her having had a previous sex life and often brought it up in public. And at the same time, he often drank so much he didn't wake up for three days.
There seemed to be no place for Siân in the home, even though she was a loving wife and mother. And she could pursue acting as long as it didn't interfere with his career.
The couple had two daughters together. And though O'Toole loved his girls, he didn't want them under his feet.
Once he divorced Phillips, O'Toole eventually moved on to American model Karen Brown. He is pictured above with Brown (center) and his daughter Kate (left) in 1982
'My father decreed that we were to be neither seen nor heard unless specifically invited into the presence,' remembered his daughter Kate.
The children and their nanny lived on the top floor nursery, a self-contained flat, and when O'Toole and Siân came up one evening to visit them, young Patricia did not recognize the man her mother was with.
It was then that Siân decided decorate the house with photos of the girls' father.
His marriage to Siân fell apart when he began having affairs with a waitress and a budding actress and began smoking dope. Siân began her own relationship with actor Robin Sachs whom she later married.
'I was a hopeless husband,' O'Toole confessed. 'Hopeless. I'm a loving man but not a particularly well-behaved one'.
In their 1979 divorce, he bought Siân out of the house and she received almost nothing else. He also demanded all the beautiful jewelry he had given to her over the years to be returned and had it sold at Sotheby's.
Her allowance was stopped, her medical insurance cancelled - a complete severing - and they rarely crossed paths again.
O'Toole was an ego-driven man, and he expected everything to go his way. He couldn't understand how she could leave him especially for a younger man.
But she had lived with him for almost 20 years and finally had enough.
By 1980, he stopped playing the bad boy and cut out the binges and the many lost weekends.
'The pleasure wasn't worth the pain,' Sellers writes. He was now a 'ravaged shell of a man' and had lost his looks.
Yet he remained unrepentant to the end, saying 'I wouldn't have missed one drop of alcohol that I drank'.
In 2006, O'Toole earned his eighth and final Oscar nomination for Best Actor for a low-budget independent film called Venus. He's pictured above at the ceremony with son Lorcan and daughter Kate
Eventually, O'Toole moved on. His spleen was removed, he had half a pancreas but still smoked weed and looked even more gaunt and haggard.
Sometimes no one could understand what he was saying.
He began dating Trudie Styler, who later married Sting. Styler was acting in the Old Vic production of Macbeth in 1980 with O'Toole.
Author Robert Sellers reveals tales of O'Toole's life in his new book, Peter O'Toole: The Definitive Biography
Critics ravaged the play calling O'Toole's performance 'deranged' and 'the funeral of that style of performer and acting'.
When word of the play's reception reached Hepburn, his old friend called and queried him about the audiences.
When he responded 'packed', she told him, 'Remember this, my boy, you are the most original actor to come out of Britain since the war and f**k the critics'.
He parted ways with Styler and began dating a model fifteen years his junior.
In 2006, O'Toole earned his eighth and final Oscar nomination for Best Actor for a low-budget independent film called Venus - 'after 20 years of indifferent film work'.
The director Roger Michell described O'Toole: 'He's a c**t. But a c**t with a lion's heart, and that great ferocious rage shines through his performance in the most surprising and glorious way.'
O'Toole retired in July 2012 to his home in Ireland with his son, Lorcan, born in 1983 from his later relationship with the American former model Karen Brown.
He wept when he was told his dear friends Richard Burton and Richard Harris had died.
O'Toole had been a leading man for half a century and now became a recluse.
He had lost his looks and was unrepentant to the end. He died on December 14, 2013, and his ashes scattered near his beloved home in Clifden, Ireland.
At his wake, his beloved cat Sydney jumped into the open coffin and sat on O'Toole's chest as people paid their last respects.
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