VIP Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole (August 2, 1932 – December 14, 2013)

Was there ever born a more perfect man than Peter O'Toole? His dashing looks and diction, combined with his devil-may-care attitude, made him a screen idol that launched into the stratosphere with Lawrence of Arabia (1962, pictured), for which he received his first of eight Oscar nominations. He was even more brilliant as a young nobleman who imagines himself to be Jesus Christ in The Ruling Class (1972), and while spoofing himself as the alcohololic film star Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982).

O'Toole, like many actors of his day, was a famous drunk, and by most accounts his health and career suffered as a result. However, he reportedly did give up alcohol for ten years, substituting cannabis (and cocaine).

Family friend Paul D'Alton tells of a time when he went for a ride with O'Toole and a driver up the world-famous Sky Road in Ireland, "with views as far to the south of Co Clare, and a massive joint being passed between us."

D'Alton and others also report that, after filming Svengali and celebrating his 50th birthday, O’Toole grew ganga in his greenhouse at Eyrephort. When asked by his handyman “Jesus, Peter, they’re mighty plants. What kind are they?” O'Toole replied, “Ah, they are very precious non-flowering, non-fruiting tomato plants.”

D'Alton continues:

So when O’Toole went back to London for a few weeks, his trusty handyman wanted to take special care of Peter’s precious ‘tomato plants’ and had fertilised and watered them so well that they had grown to a height of nearly 20ft.

So on his return and to his total horror, O’Toole had to have the cannabis plants quickly cut down so that the gardaí wouldn’t spot them.

Needless to say, the harvest from that culling of the best of the crop resulted in the entire town literally having shopping bags full of weed for weeks, months after. We were delighted but O’Toole, the poor man, was terrified. I remember him roaring up at the house: “I could end up in fucking jail, you fuckers."

Perhaps this is why he went back to alcohol.

In his swan song My Favorite Year, based on a week when Errol Flynn guested on Your Show of Shows, O'Toole's character is told, "I need Alan Swanns as big as I can get them." O'Toole was as big as they come.

According to Peter O'Toole: The Definitive Biography by Robert Sellers, O'Toole and his Lawrence of Arabia co-star Omar Shariff went to see Lenny Bruce perform at a club on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and were rounded up along with Bruce in a drug raid afterwards. When the police offered to let the two movie stars go, O'Toole refused to leave without Bruce. The police relented.

BTW, according to The Young T.E. Lawrence by Anthony Sattin, O'Toole's most famous character once wrote to a friend from Oxford, "I am on a divan, inhaling haschich...and dreaming of odalisques." The explorer known as the female Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, also partook. O'Toole appeared in a not-very-interesting biopic of Tokin' Woman Isabelle Eberhard, who also traveled in Arabia.

In the 2006 movie Venus, for which O'Toole received his final Oscar nomination, his character says, "I've tried to give pleasure. It's all I recommend to anyone." That line might have summed up his life.

O'Toole's archives were recently acquired by the University of Texas at Austin.

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