Peter O’Toole: R.I.P. Fr. Z POLL

Actor Peter O’Toole has died at the age of 81.  He will forever be connected to one of the greatest films of its era (or any era), Lawrence of Arabia.  I suspect some of you young’uns haven’t seen it.

Lawrence of Arabia...

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

I digress.

The last few movie choices of his career are intriguing.


For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada (2012)
Katherine of Alexandria (2013 – not out yet)
Mary (announced…2014… made?)

And in between, it looks like a tiny cameo in some sort of Asian action film.

It is interesting to speculate about what might have been going on in O’Toole’s life toward the end. Surely, he felt his mortality. Of course, the cynic could suggest that he was simply taking jobs from those who would pay him.

Whatever.  Say a prayer for him.  He has passed from this life, as we all shall one day.

Once upon a time, these great films had musical overtures and intermissions with an entr’acte. Going to the movies was like going to the best of plays, a stage production on steroids. A Gesamtkunstwerk.?

I remember going to these big screen films, with the breaks… the patience. The quality.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in The Drill and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. disco says:

    He was quite good, I thought, in Becket as king Henry. He also had a small role as Pope Paul III in the showtime series the Tudors. It’s not a particularly good show and it is unnessesarily obscene, but contains marvelous portrayals of Thomas More, John Fisher, and Catherine of Aragon.

  2. robtbrown says:

    Lawrence of Arabia is one of the best movies ever made, but I think O’Toole is the weak link.

  3. mamajen says:

    I loved his part in For Greater Glory, though it was heartbreaking. I haven’t seen Lawrence of Arabia yet.

  4. Phil_NL says:

    Laurence of Arabia was a good movie in other sense as well: O’Toole gave – by accident or design – a classic portrayal of a westerner who became blind to the many horrors inherent in islamic arab culture, and the storyline and movie script reinforces that. It’s a great movie, but upon reflection I cannot help but wonder if the world wouldn’t have been a better place if the real T.E. Lawrence had never brought the tribes out of the desert. In terms of WW1, it was a sideshow to a sideshow, but the policy of overpromising to the arabs and stirring their nationalism haunts us all to this very day.

  5. Vincent says:

    For Greater Glory is a great film – we watched it whilst on an SSPX young person’s apologetics seminar. My priest concluded by giving us a talk on martyrdom. Made for a very cheerful evening…

    Lawrence of Arabia, however, is still on the list of “films what I want to watch”..

  6. monmir says:

    I have seen Lawrence of Arabia 17 times, before 9/11. It would be inteeesting to see a 18th time now and find out how my mind has changed, or not.
    In any case, even then I was grateful to Charles Martel, king of France, who stopped the Maures in Poitiers and prevented the taking over of Paris.
    Two movies that I liked also were “High Spirits” and “the Night of the Generals”
    Great actor.
    May God have mercy on him.

  7. James C says:

    My favorite living actor! If anyone hasn’t seen “Lawrence”, SEE it on the big screen! It’s unforgettable.

    My favorite film of his is “The Lion in Winter” with Katharine Hepburn, his second time playing King Henry II.

    A previous commenter mentioned his role as Pope Paul III in “The Tudors”. A delicious performance! See this clip of the pope talking about Anne Boleyn:

    Alas that O’Toole was a fallen-away Catholic. Let us pray that reconciliation took place before the end. That voice belongs in heaven!

  8. Netmilsmom says:

    My favorite of Peter O’Toole is his performance as King Henry II, in the movie “Becket”

  9. ck says:

    Peter O’Toole does a spectacular job playing Henry II in Becket.

    “It is a time my dear barons, for all of us to do penance.”

  10. Poustinik1 says:

    Just viewed him in Thomas Kinkade’s bio movie The Christmas Cottage two weeks ago. He was excellent. The movie was worth watching for a lot of reasons. Highly recommend it for the season.

  11. Bosco says:

    I loved his performance in “The Lion in Winter”!!!

  12. avecrux says:

    He was also in this wonderful film about St. Damian of Molokai:

  13. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    Laurence of Arabia was and remains a favorite of mine. Make popcorn and watch the DVD. And I would put big money on a claim that the musical theme was taken from the opening of Bruckner’s 6th Symphony. I put these links on my Facebook page for comparison: First two minutes Go to 1:16

  14. NoraLee9 says:

    I always make a point to put famous folk on my prayer it’s as they pass away. Despite the fact that they are famous, most of them do not have boards of family and friends to pray for them after they are gone. And think about it. Folks with more money and opportunity to live large also make large mistakes. They have greater access to cause scandal. Therefore they may need lots of prayers. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor will be joined by Mr. O’Toole on my list of folks I pray for during the Mass. My list sorts folks by the month of their passing. So Mr. O’Toole’s name will join the other names for whom I pray in December.
    As a young woman, I got arrested for DUI and was stuck in the a Cortland County jail until my brother came to bail me out. My joy at being released (I was 26, and had no idea about life) pales in comparison to how souls feel upon release from purgatory. I have an idea, though, however vague, and with that I say, pray for the church suffering.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    My all time favorite movie is Lawrence of Arabia, which I have seen at least 22 times. So much about it is timely as well.

    I prayed for Peter O’Toole at Mass. God have mercy on him and on me,when it is my turn to go.

    He did say one time that he could not get away from Jesus Christ. That is hopeful.

  16. TomD says:

    For anyone who hasn’t seen them, Lawrence of Arabia and Becket (1964, with Richard Burton) are both excellent films. The Lion in Winter (1968) is a classic performance by O’Toole with Katharine Hepburn and a young Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. Also, My Favorite Year (1982) is great fun with O’Toole stealing the show and The Last Emperor (1987) is an excellent film. And there is always Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969).

  17. avecrux says:

    Here is a clip from Molokai – O’Toole is in it starting at 3:11 (although the whole clip is good…):

  18. Sofia Guerra says:

    Eternal rest granto unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him…

    As a young person who loved going to the movies before it became impossible to go without being insulted, mortified or in the near occasion of sin, I remember the day my Dad took me to see Lawrence on the big screen in a gorgeous old theatre in Asbury Park, NJ called the Mayfair. It was resplendent as only grand theatres could be in their day and there was even a program for the showing.
    Peter O’Toole was one of those actors who would not allow you to forget him once you have seen him perform. In Becket, he upstaged even Burton… His appearances on the tonight show with Johnny Carson were in the very least like being in his living room after an evening imbibing with friends! those were hard to forget…especially when his fellow Irishmen and close friend and actor Richard Harris was involved.
    Needless to say, like each and every one of us, he was a sinner. I have prayed for him since I watched his touching performance as American artist Glen Wisman who inspired the late Thomas Kinkade as a young man. The Christmas Cottage is a different kind of Christmas movie and the result of Kinkade’s friendship with O’Tooles character is life changing.
    I noticed O’Toole was becoming quite deteriorated in body (but not in spirit or acting ability) and have prayed for him since last year. I have prayed in particular for his return to the Church where he could only find the joy he so generously offered us in his performances.

    Just the other day I looked up his particulars to see how old he was now since I knew he was still working..Guess I kind of figured it was almost time to say goodbye.
    I will continue to pray for his soul so that in the mercy and love of Christ he can finally find that joy.

  19. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    It is rather trippy that you posted this entry on your blog, Father. My wife and I are currently half way through Lawrence of Arabia. We started it last week and haven’t found time to finish the second half of it although we’ve been looking forward to it. Watching it is an investment in time, but I always enjoy it.

  20. Lori Pieper says:

    So sad to hear this. He is maybe my all-time favorite actor. I was so hoping he’d have a chance to win the Oscar “for real.” Amazing that he didn’t win one for any of his great performances in “Lawrence” (consolation prize: Gregory Peck won instead for another of my favorite roles, Atticus Finch), or “Becket” or “Lion in Winter.” I even had hopes for his portrayal of Anton Ego, the anorexic food critic in “Ratatouille.” A voice role, of course, so even more difficult — but man, did he nail it! He is also hilarious in “My Favorite Year.”

    God bless you, Mr. O’Toole. Through the mercy of God, may you rest in peace.

  21. JARay says:

    I knew little of Peter O’Toole’s personal life but strongly suspected that he was one who had fallen away. So often I am glad that I will never have the job that Jesus has, of judging others. I have a friend who is fallen away and yet I have just received an email from him in which he bemoans the lack of appreciation of the coming of the Lord at this time and he speaks so movingly at what should be the proper mood at this time. How far has he fallen away? How far did Peter O’Toole fall away? Somehow I think that these people have not truly lost God but I cannot understand what is really going on in their minds.

  22. govmatt says:

    I’ll second (third, fourth…) the plug for Becket.

  23. Kathleen10 says:

    I loved Lawrence of Arabia, especially because of the cinematography. Lavish. It’s also a great story but that is going by recall, it was a long time ago that I saw it.
    He was excellent, as was Katherine Hepburn, in “A Lion in Winter”. But it was a film of his I saw a few years ago that really made an impression on me. I can’t even remember the film. He played a minor character, but his was the character who really stood out. What a natural actor, and what else can you call that relaxed, humorous and suave nature, except cool. He had it in spades.

    NoraLee, I think of artists and how it is possible no one prays for them, so I do. I have a partly selfish motive. I think they appreciate my little prayers and will come to greet me when I cross over, and I want to meet them. I like the idea of spending my eternity with some fun and interesting people, and so I pray for them when I think of it. If this is true, I will be spending my eternity with Jesus, my family, Lucy and Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley, John Ritter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and even the Marx Brothers. I believe we will have a lively group.

  24. Jacob says:

    I can’t say how many times I’ve seen Lawrence or Lion on TV because if I ever see them on, I sit down and watch if I have nothing else going on. :) Lawrence is one of a handful of movies I would love to see on the big screen.

    Aside from those two, I would say my favorite Peter O’Toole movie is My Favorite Year. One movie not mentioned so far that is a fun little comedy to watch is How to Steel a Million with Peter, Audrey Hepburn, Hugh Griffith, and Eli Wallach.

  25. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I would emphatically second avecrux about the Fr. Damian movie – do see that, if you have not already!

    I enjoyed The Lion in Winter, but it is also quite nasty in all sorts of ways – and how unhistorical is it, as to characters?

    For that matter, how historical/likely is Lawrence of Arabia in its interpretation of him? (I have enjoyed seeing it several times, but… I wonder…)

  26. Theodore says:

    Even in his later years Mr O’Toole still had his acting chops. This scene from Troy, when he as King Priam entreats Achilles for the return of the body of his son, Hector, shows his continuing ability to play a convincing role.

  27. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Lord Jim is very good, too.

    (And has anyone seen Dean Spanley – it sounds so quirky, and possibly very creepy, I have been shy of trying it…)

  28. two great movies of the not too distant past. Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia.

  29. Franco Zeffereli’s Jesus of Nazareth is up there too :)

  30. trespinos says:

    For his very fine performances in “Becket” and “Lawrence of Arabia”, I was a fan of his. For his taking a part in “The Lion in Winter”, I forgive him. That was a completely execrable screenplay which transferred Twentieth Century angst into an entirely unbelievable Medieval setting. Dreck.

  31. graytown says:

    My favorite O’Toole film is called Murphy’s War.
    He singlehandedly takes on a German U Boat

    Mark R

  32. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    I agree about Jesus of Nazareth.

    I remember enjoying Peter O’Toole in a later First Century A.D. (television) movie, Masada (where all the Romans had English accents and the Jews, American ones, if I am not mistaken!) – I’d like to try it again, and see if I still like it…

  33. Cantor says:

    Indeed, one of the world’s greatest actors. I enjoyed all of his work, but have an affinity for The Stunt Man in which he portrays a rather wacked-out film director and played it, I suspect, with several of his own prior directors in mind!

  34. The Masked Chicken says:

    O’Toole was in the third best attempt at a movie of the life of St. Joan of Arc – the CBS t.v. version in 1999, starring a young Leelee Sobieski.

    The Chicken

  35. cpttom says:

    Beckett is a favorite of mine and Peter O’toole’s performance is magnificent! Him and Burton were a marvelous paring. Of course, I find his brief stint in “For Greater Glory,” sad but sweet (“I am too old to run”). While having a mess of a personal life, he was a great actor. Requiem Pacem.

  36. Southern Baron says:

    I’ve always loved The Lion in Winter, I don’t care how inaccurate it is. Such great lines. Such shabby costumes. O’Toole as Henry, kicking back and saying “Oh God, how I do love being king!” has a certain suspicious charm. I used to pester my parents by putting it on every Christmas Eve. I still say it is my favorite Christmas movie. “Somebody dig me up a priest! You–get me a bishop!”

  37. “Becket” & “The Lion in Winter” are exceptional performances. Of course, the lines help, but his readings are spectacular. Such an on-screen charisma.

    I also thought his turn in “The Last Emperor” was a small gem.

    Not sure I can recommend “Prometheus” (it was OK I guess), but I enjoyed how Michael Fassbender’s character studies “Lawrence of Arabia” and channels Peter O’ Toole.

    I suspect there was some Catholicism running through his Irish blood – how much is known only to Our Lord. May he rest in peace.

  38. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Masked Chicken,

    Yes! I enjoyed the 1999 Joan of Arc attempt… And have fuzzy memories of enjoying the 1948 film and the 1957 film version of the Shaw play, decades ago… But which attempt do you think best? Dreyer’s? (I haven’t caught up with that, yet.)

    Southern Baron and trespinos,

    I think I saw The Lion in Winter around the time I first read Richard III and Macbeth, which seemed interesting to compare and contrast in terms of evil scheming, use of humor, and serious moral horror. I saw a good student production of the play a couple decades later, and thought it had aged badly. (Maybe it needed O’Toole and Hepburn to make it work at all…? I found Hopkins’s Richard particularly annoying…)

    Now, reading your comments, the novels of Alfred Duggan come to mind (not so much his Becket one, God and My Right, I think, as others) – what do you think of his wise-cracking style? Might he be in the background, or is it a 1950s-60s ‘period’ matter? (Where does Waugh’s Helena come into that picture, if it does? And Anouih’s Becket, for that matter?)

  39. CatholicHistoryNerd says:

    He does seem to have taken an interest in religious films toward the end of his life, including a cameo as the prophet Samuel in the recent story of Esther film One Night With the King.

    And don’t forget his foray into films for the youngest generation as the cynical food critic in Pixar’s Ratatouille.

  40. robtbrown says:


    In the movie there are comments made by Lawrence that indicate he was not so naive about the negative aspects of Arab culture.

    My understanding is that contemporary opinion re the Middle East says that the mess exists partly because the opinions of Lawrence advocating Arab independence were disregarded, not because they were heeded. The French and English divided up the Ottoman Empire.

    He is an important historical figure and a fascinating man, a Medievalist/archeologist, who first became familiar with the Middle East in the summer of 1909 during a 1000 mile walking tour in Syria to do research on the influence of the Crusades on European architecture. After graduating from Oxford, he worked and traveled extensively as an archeologist in the Middle East until WWII.

    There is a new bio of him by Michael Korda (which I have not yet read).

    And the Wikipedia article is worth reading.

  41. MarWes says:

    It is a shame that this great actor had never got an Oscar. Perhaps if he stooped to playing homosexual characters, like Christopher Plummer, in his old age, he would receive one pronto?

  42. MarWes says:

    One of Peter O’Toole’s last leading roles was in the charming New Zealand film called “Dean Spanley” (2008) which I recommend highly – no special effects, no sex, no violence, just an intriguing and moving story of dogs and men…

  43. AvantiBev says:

    Just a few months ago I watched an interview with him and he commented on something from the Mass of the Ages which I too had noticed many It about knocked me off my chair that I had had the same thought as such a great actor , but on further consideration it is obvious to any actor who attends the Holy Mass in the EF.

    The final Gospel IS the actor’s vocation: In principio erat Verbum – in the beginning we actors begin with THE WORD (the script) and O’Toole said the culmination is to bring that word into flesh — et Verbum caro factum est. And he said that when he would hear this at Mass many years ago, he realized that struck a chord.

    [Do you think you could hunt down a link to that interview?]

  44. Legisperitus says:

    Father: I haven’t found a link to AvantiBev’s interview, but apparently it was conducted by Robert Osbourne in 2011 and shown in 2012 on TCM as “Peter O’Toole: Live at the TCM Classic Film Festival.”

  45. LadyMarchmain says:

    One of the great actors of our lifetimes: he did receive the honorary Oscar, which he at first declined, saying he was still in the game and intended to win one on his own. Later, he accepted it.

    I remain hopeful, especially in light of AvantiBev’s comment. He was raised Catholic, educated in a Catholic school (back in the day when that meant something), and the Irish nuns he describes in his memoirs sound fiercely serious. In an interview, he once said, “No one can take Jesus away from me,” and knowing how serious an actor he was, and how much he entered into his roles, I know his performance as the priest in “For Greater Glory” was sincere and heartfelt. In particular, the powerful execution scene which must have been a forceful memento mori for a man approaching 80 years. Playing the role of Father Brown was instrumental in Alec Guiness’ conversion to Catholicism. Requiescat in pace.

  46. James C says:

    Father, it came from an interview he gave as part of a TCM special in 2012. I couldn’t find a video of the special online, but I did find a promo for it (it includes part of the O’Toole quote referenced above).

    Now that he’s passed, no doubt TCM will rerun it, so check their programming schedule.

  47. James C says:

    I too have hope for O’Toole. He remained delightfully free of political correctness to his dying day. If he started loving Jesus again, he wouldn’t have given a damn if his secular peers thought it was goofy or disturbing. He’s never given a damn what the Establishment thought of him.

    In the last interview he ever gave, to GQ magazine last summer, he used a British slur referring to homosexuals and said one of the best times of his life was serving in the military with a group of real-life war heroes.

    Sean Penn he ain’t.

  48. MarWes says:


    When I wrote that Peter O’Toole had never received an Oscar, I meant a real Oscar. I am aware of his receiving an honorary Oscar but an honorary Oscar is, at best, a consolation prize and more of a patronizing gesture than a real award. He deserved better, especially when compared with a lot of insignificant American actors and actresses who receive this award.

  49. marthawrites says:

    So glad Jacob mentioned “How to Steal a Million” with Audrey Hepburn, one of my favorite light movies. He held his own on screen with Audrey who could mesmerize with a single syllable.

  50. TomG says:

    His work in the excellent “My Favorite Year” as the washed-up swashbuckler movie hero was wonderful. Hilarious.

  51. LadyMarchmain says:

    MarWes: Thank you for clarifying! I wondered if that’s what you might have meant. I agree, he ought to have received more than one Oscar.

    Marthawrites and Jacob: How to Steal a Million is one of my favorite comedies, too!

  52. RuariJM says:

    I scrolled a long way down before encountering a mention of Lord Jim.

    Amazing that it should be forgotten. Lawrence of Arabia was an adventure film and a rather good one but Lord Jim was more complex and nuanced. And it was about sin, redemption and that even good intentions in action are not always enough.

  53. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    RuariJM, It is fine! And it seems to be available on dvd (and so, in some public libraries, too?).

    What a lot of Shakespeare and Shaw on stage under Other Works at IMDb (and in the Wikipedia article)! Someone has put an interesting snippet from the 1982 Man and Superman (which was telecast) on YouTube. I wonder how many of these were recorded in some form? And, did he ever do audio versions of any (nothing turns up, searching the Caedmon part of the HarperCollins site – but then, neither does Paul Scofield in Murder in the Cathedral)?

  54. M. K. says:

    “Lawrence of Arabia” is my favorite film, hands down. Noting a comment someone made above about watching the film differently after 9/11, I can say that one thing that strikes me about the film is that Islam is scarcely mentioned – there is one scene where part of the Quran is recited, but almost as a kind of performance and not as an act of worship, but other than that there is no real Mulim content in the film. On that level, I think “Lawrence of Arabia” reflects the time in which it was made: in the 1960s, secular Arab nationalism seemed to be strong and political Islam was not on many Westerners’ radar, and I think that the film’s creators may have projected the politics of their time back onto the Arab Revolt, making it a nationalist movement that (for lack of any explicit reference to Islam) seems effectively secular.

    On Peter O’Toole’s religious commitments or lack thereof, like others I had the impression that he was a lapsed Catholic. Does the apparent concentration of religious roles later in his life indicate a return to faith? I don’t know, but at the very least I can promise to pray for him.

  55. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I will have to rewatch it carefully. My memory is that the viewer is in fact presented with the phenomenon of Arab Muslims against Turkish Muslims, without that matter being addressed explicitly. (I have a similar memory of the film Khartoum where the followers of Mohammed Achmed are attacking other Muslims, though I think the matter is more explicit there – something else to rewatch carefully!)

Comments are closed.