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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 08:41 GMT
How O'Toole wooed Oscar
Peter O'Toole
O'Toole: Still planning to win an Oscar as well
Veteran Irish actor O'Toole is this year's recipient of the academy's honorary Oscar - an accolade he has accepted, but only after a fight.

When the Academy originally offered O'Toole the statuette - his first Oscar despite seven nominations - his initial reaction was to turn them down.

Writing to the Academy, he asked as he was "still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright, would the Academy please defer the honour until I am 80?"

His response was apt for a man who has, in all things, lived to the full.

As an actor, the 70-year-old O'Toole has starred in some of cinema's most dazzling classics.

As an individual, O'Toole has also earned himself an enormous reputation, as a party-lover and heavy drinker - a habit which almost killed him.

O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia
O'Toole never looked back after Lawrence of Arabia

Big film parts for O'Toole have not been plentiful in recent years but he could, if wanted, rest on laurels that include Lawrence of Arabia, Beckett and My Favourite Year.

It is for these, and many other impressive performances, that the Academy wanted to acknowledge O'Toole's contribution to film.

Star class

O'Toole, however, never intended to take up acting, setting his sights initially on journalism.

The son of a bookie, he was born in Connemara, Ireland, but moved with his family to Leeds, where he was raised.

1963 - Lawrence of Arabia
1965 - Becket
1969 - The Lion in Winter
1970 - Goodbye Mr Chips
1973 - The Ruling Class
1981 - The Stunt Man
1983 - My Favourite Year
(Dated by year of Oscars ceremony)
He left school at 14 and began training as a reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post but then the acting bug bit hard.

Holding on to his desire to perform while serving in the Royal Navy, O'Toole later won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal College of Dramatic Art, despite having none of the experience of his peers.

They included Albert Finney, the late Richard Harris and Alan Bates, now known as some of Britain's greatest actors.

O'Toole's first professional acting job was with the Bristol Old Vic theatre, where he honed his skills and developed a love for the stage that has never left him.

Challenging roles

After appearances in TV dramas and films such as Kidnapped and The Savage Innocents, he suddenly hit the big time.

Acclaimed director David Lean chose O'Toole to play the lead in his epic Lawrence of Arabia, a part for which the blond, poetic-looking actor was also physically well suited.

The role won O'Toole his first Oscar nomination and a best actor Bafta - and made him an international star.

Actress Sian Phillips
Actress Siān Phillips was married to O'Toole

Over the next four decades he made more than 40 films, shining in many difficult and emotionally challenging roles.

The success of Lawrence of Arabia was followed by Beckett, The Lion in Winter and Goodbye Mr Chips in the 1960s.

The next decade saw him in films such as Murphy's War, Man Friday and Zulu War.

But, while O'Toole continued to shine on screen, his personal life was suffering from his repeated heavy drinking and love of freedom.

Treading the boards

His career would probably have been ruined too if O'Toole had not become seriously ill, forcing him to give up alcohol and have medical treatment, including stomach surgery.

In 1979, O'Toole's 19-year marriage to actress Siān Phillips also ended in divorce.

But O'Toole bounced back and went on to prove his fighting spirit with Oscar nominations for Stunt Man and My Favourite Year.

Peter O'Toole in Jeffrey Barnard is Unwell
O'Toole played the role of Jeffrey Barnard for several years

He worked almost continuously throughout the 1980s and 1990s - in film, TV and on the stage.

On TV, he won starring roles in dramas such as Pygmalion, Uncle Silas and Coming Home.

And in theatre, he continued to indulge his passion for live performance - as he had done throughout his career.

Most notably, O'Toole won acclaim in the West End production Jeffrey Barnard is Unwell, playing the notoriously outspoken journalist with a passion for alcohol.

He picked up an honour for outstanding achievement at the Olivier awards in 2000.

In 1983, he also became a father for a third time through his relationship with model Karen Brown - he had two grown-up children from his marriage to Phillips.

In recent times, O'Toole's workload has been scaled down but those roles he does take remain characteristically high profile.

After his Oscars appearance in March, he will soon be seen amongst the cream of British acting talent in Stephen Fry's screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Bright Young Things.

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