Peter O'Toole, one of the most talented, charismatic, and esteemed actors of any generation, died on Saturday at the age of 81. With his charm and classical training, he starred in a great deal of the most famous and well-regarded films in history, and was nominated for 8 Oscars over the course of his career. Although he holds the record for the most nominations without a win, he was awarded with an Honorary Oscar in 2003, which cemented his role as one of the greatest film actors of all time. Over his 60-year career, he played a great number of iconic roles. Some of them only became cinematic icons after he brought them to live onscreen. Others are the kind of literary, historical, or theatrical icons that are reserved for only the most esteemed of actor, but all of them will forever be remembered as part of O'Toole's long, storied career.
In remembrance of the late, great actor, we've rounded up all Peter O'Toole's most iconic film characters.
T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of ArabiaArguably the most famous and iconic role that O’Toole ever played, the British military commander T.E. Lawrence earned the actor the first of his eight Oscar nominations and made him a household name. With a performance that perfectly captured the complex and divisive nature of his character and still managed to ground the epic scale of the film, it’s no wonder that O’Toole will always be more closely associated with Lawrence's story than even the actual historical figure is. Although he was the first of many more significant and memorable roles to come, Lawrence of Arabia will forever be the iconic Peter O’Toole performance.
Henry II, The Lion in Winter It takes a significant amount of talent and charisma to steal a scene away from Katherine Hepburn, but as Henry II, the aging king who refuses to leave his kingdom to either of his sons, O’Toole turns a major theatrical and historical figure into a cinematic icon. It was actually the second time that O’Toole took on Henry II, having played a younger version of the monarch a few years earlier in Becket, and that experience with the character seems to have served him well in delivering another unforgettable performance.
Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha O’Toole actually played several characters in this musical, including the author himself, Miguel De Cervantes, but it’s his portrayal of the knight-errant who is unable to tell reality from fiction that stands out as the truly iconic role. Don Quixote is one of the most famous literary characters of all time, and O’Toole perfectly blends the tragedy and comedy of his character to wonderfully bring him to life on the big screen, and ensures that his Don Quixote will forever be remembered as just as much of an icon as the character in Cervantes’ story.
Robinson Crusoe, Man FridayAlthough one of his lesser known films, O’Toole puts his own stamp on the famous character of Robinson Crusoe, the English explorer stranded on a deserted island. The film is designed to subvert many of the messages of the original Daniel Defoe novel, which allows O’Toole to switch things up and play a stiff, blunt, overly-proper Englishman, and showcase the range of his talent. It might not be as epic or dramatic as some of his other iconic roles, but in Man Friday, O’Toole is able to interpret another famous literary character in a new unique way while still delivering an incredible, memorable performance.
Sherlock HolmesThere is perhaps no literary hero more iconic than Sherlock Holmes, so it is perfectly fitting that O’Toole took on the role for several animated films in 1983. It’s a testament to O’Toole’s talent that despite only providing his voice for the character, he is still considered to be a vital part of the long, great tradition of esteemed English actors who have undertaken the task of bringing the world’s only consulting detective to life on screen. Fun fact: O’Toole also played Sherlock Holmes’ author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle just over a decade later, in the film FairyTale: A True Story.
Professor Henry Higgins, Pygmalion For a television adaptation of Pygmalion, O’Toole took on another role reserved for the most esteemed of actors when he played Professor Henry Higgins in 1983. Like Sherlock Holmes, his interpretation of the iconic professor will long be considered to be one of the greatest, an opinion which he solidified by reprising the role three years later on Broadway.
Zaltar, Supergirl Yes, O’Toole was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Actor for his role in Supergirl, but it says something about O’Toole’s talent and dedication that he still earns award nominations for what is widely considered to be his worst film. Despite this, he managed to make Zaltar an iconic character purely by portraying him onscreen, and also helped prove that just because an actor is both English and held in the highest of esteem, it doesn’t mean that casting him in your superhero film will automatically improve its clout and quality.
Augustus Caesar, Imperium: Augustus O’Toole took on the Roman emperor in 2003 when he played Augustus Caesar in the television movie Imperium: Agustus. The Caesar kin are the kind of iconic historical figures who are always played by the greatest actors of their day. Performers with enough talent and respect to make them almost as famous and iconic as the emperor they are portraying. It’s only fair that O’Toole get his shot at the role, and took on Caesar as an old, aged man, looking back on the glory days of his life.
Anton Ego, RatatouilleSure, Ratatouille might not be on quite the same level as Lawrence of Arabia, but Pixar creates iconic characters in much the same way that giant, sweeping epics do, and when it comes to Pixar villains (or would-be villains), Anton Ego is among the finest. As the snooty, rude, condescending food critic, O’Toole helped to create a character that will make children cower in fear, all the while laughing at his humorous affect. Plus, as one of the few Pixar villains who changes over the course of the film, O’Toole also assisted in creating a character who is just as multi-dimensional as the ones he played in live-action films.
Based on the best-selling book by Mark Foster Game tells the remarkable real-life story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). He was a working-class immigrant kid who in the early 1900s turned the privileged world of golf on its ear. The story begins with Francis working as a caddie at a posh country club where he masters the game by quietly practicing on his own. His French-born father (Elias Koteas) thinks he's wasting his time and should be earning an honest wage but Francis is far too smitten with the game to give it up. Francis finally gets his big break when an amateur spot opens up at the 1913 U.S. Open. With a feisty 10-year-old caddie named Eddie (Josh Flitter) by his side egging him on Francis plays the best he ever has. He eventually finds himself facing off against the sport's undisputed champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) a U.S. Open winner and six-time British Open champion (a record that still stands today). Their legendary battle changes the face of the sport forever--but I wouldn't necessarily call it the greatest game ever.
Game is one of those juicy little biopics actors can really sink their teeth into. Starting with our young lead LaBeouf (Holes) is sufficiently determined as the guy playing against impossible odds. His Francis with his liquid brown eyes and winning smile is full of optimism and raw talent that propels him into the majors. And he looks pretty authentic swinging a golf club too. Still it may be time for LaBeouf to move on from the Disney family fare and do something grittier sort of like what he showed in Constantine. Dillane--who was so achingly good in The Hours as Virginia Woolf's beleaguered husband--also does a fine job as the legendary Vardon a man haunted by his own demons. In a way Game is a story about both men who have more in common than they realize. Although a top professional in the sport Vardon has to fight against the elitist golfing community's prejudices. You see Vardon grew up dirt poor on the plains of Scotland and because of his background was never permitted into any "gentleman's" clubs. The cast of colorful supporting players add to the film especially Flitter as the caustic but encouraging Eddie. He may be small but he packs a wallop. The last shot of the movie features Francis and Eddie walking off the golf course at sunset evoking the classic Casablanca ending line "This is the start of a beautiful friendship"--which apparently really happened. The real-life Eddie and Francis remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The main slice against Game is that it's about golf. Besides comedies such as Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore a serious movie about the game really isn't going to stir your soul say like football or baseball. But actor-turned-director Bill Paxton--who made his directorial debut with the creepy Frailty--takes the story and keeps it convincingly affecting. Much like Seabiscuit it's the real-life historical context that makes Game even more compelling. Paxton painstakingly details how the game was played at the turn of the century--and who was allowed to play it. The whole discriminatory arrogance surrounding the game makes the stakes even higher for our heroes. Vardon had a score to settle while Ouimet simply became the game's new hero paving the way for legendary whiz kids like Tiger Woods to step up on the green. Paxton also views Game as a Western. The final golf round between Vardon and Ouimet is the ultimate shootout á la the OK Corral in which the camera angles are inventive--a bird's eye view of the ball sailing through the air or gliding on the green into the hole. Plus he keeps the tension as taut as he can considering the less than exhilarating subject matter. Oh come on who isn't a sucker for a good sports underdog story even if it is golf?