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Heaven for the last of the hell-raisers?

Peter Seamus O'Toole was born to an Irish Catholic family in 1932 and shot to fame as Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. His fame endured to the end.

Peter Seamus O'Toole, actor

Born: August 2, 1932; Died December 14, 2013

- By Adrian Higgins (with contributions by Terence McArdle) for The Washington Post.

Peter O’Toole, the willowy and mesmerizing actor who became an overnight sensation in the 1962 film epic Lawrence of Arabia, died in December 14 in a London hospital. He was 81.

His death, confirmed by his agent, came after a prolonged, unspecified illness.

His birthplace isn’t definitively known; he said his birthplace was either Connemara in the western part of Ireland or the northern English city of Leeds, where he grew up. His father, Patrick 'Spats' O’Toole, was an Irish bookmaker, and his mother, Constance Jane Eliot, a Scottish nurse.

His first Oscar nomination was for his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence, the British archaeologist, soldier and adventurer who led Arab tribesmen against the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

The legend which grew up around Lawrence’s exploits became a perfect creative vehicle for filmmaker David Lean. Mr O’Toole, who at 6-foot-2 was almost a foot taller than the enigmatic Lawrence, nevertheless seemed to capture perfectly the tortured inner life of a charismatic but conflicted rebel leader.

The film’s sublime cinematography rendered its star as a towering, gaunt Anglo-Saxon outlier who has a chiselled beauty and piercing, azure eyes.

O’Toole’s acting helped make the film a classic and placed the actor in a pantheon of beloved, roguish British and Irish actors of the post-war era.

During his long and colourful career, Mr O’Toole received eight Academy Award nominations with no wins — an unprecedented streak for an actor.

Apart from Lawrence, he received Oscar nominations for his leading roles in Becket(1964), The Lion in Winter(1968), Goodbye, Mr Chips(1968), The Ruling Class(1972), The Stunt Man(1980) and My Favourite Year(1982). His final Oscar nomination came in 2006, when he played an aging lothario inVenus.

In 2003, he settled for an honorary Oscar, which he accepted with customary relish.

'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. My foot,' he said, clutching the Oscar for lifetime achievement.

O’Toole never fully embraced the Hollywood culture and was identified instead with a flamboyant, theatrical and hard-drinking cohort of stage and screen stars who included Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter Finch. Mr O’Toole spoke with exquisite diction and careful delivery — every word seemed to have been savoured.

He told The Washington Post in a 1978 interview that 'my passion is language. The most satisfying thing for me is having worked with fine writers.' His voice evoked a very cultured British manner, although he was claimed by Ireland as a favourite son, and he identified himself as an Irishman.

His friend Michael D. Higgins, the Irish president, issued a statement after O’Toole’s death that said the actor 'was unsurpassed for the grace he brought to every performance on and off the stage.'

'Ireland, and the world,' Higgins said, 'have lost one of the giants of film and theatre.'

PHOTO: O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia, 1962

FULL OBITUARY: Acting great Peter O'Toole, who starred as 'Lawrence of Arabia', dies at 81

Related coverage:

Acting giant Peter O'Toole dies at 81 (The Times)

Postscript: Peter O'Toole (The New Yorker)

Watch: Peter O'Toole receiving an Honourary Oscar (YouTube)

Watch: Monitor - Prince of Denmark, 1963: Peter O'Toole, Orson Welles and Ernest Milton debate Hamlet (BBC One).

Watch Preview: Molokai - a 1999 film Starring David Wenham as Saint Damian of Molokai and Peter O'Toole as William Williamson. (YouTube)

Watch clip: Masada "Retribution" (YouTube)

Watch film: Becket - a 1964 film starring Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as Kind Henry II (YouTube)

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