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Peter O'Toole dies aged 81

The actor who shot to fame in David Lean's 1962 masterpiece and received eight Oscar nominations has died in hospital in London.

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Australian filmmaker Paul Cox had nothing but kind words for Peter O'Toole, who he directed in the 1999 movie Molokai: The Story of Father Damien.

O'Toole, famously known as Lawrence of Arabia and eight time-Oscar nominee, died on Saturday after a long battle with illness.

“A lot of people had issues with him because he was impulsive and intelligent, but I never had any problems with him," Cox said. "He was very warm and very wonderful. We got along really well.”

Australian director Paul Cox has only fond memories of the late Peter O'Toole.

Australian director Paul Cox has only fond memories of the late Peter O'Toole.

O'Toole was as famous for hell-raising exploits, alcoholic benders and independence of artistic judgment, as for his wildly variable performances on stage and screen. ("Booze is the most outrageous of all drugs, which is why I chose it," he once told an interviewer.)

But the 73-year-old filmmaker spoke with fondness about the man who played William Williamson in his film, telling a story of their camaraderie offscreen: “We use to sit and sing old church songs together. He was an altar boy like I was.

“He was tops. He was an original, extremely intelligent and had a strange sentimental streak.”

<i>Molokai: The Story of Father Damien</i> starred David Wenham  and Peter O'Toole.

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien starred David Wenham and Peter O'Toole.

What many people might not have appreciated was O'Toole's ability not just as an actor, but as a writer as well. “He wrote about six or seven credible, very-written stories about his life and his experiences. And I think they'll go into history as something rather important," Cox said. "It was beautiful reading, he was a great writer. People think of Vincent van Gogh as a great painter, but he was also a great writer. And so was Peter O'Toole.”

O'Toole was sometimes labelled difficult to work with, but Cox was quick to refute that, saying there was a much warmer side to The Lawrence of Arabia star.

“He was a much warmer human being than he showed to people. He appeared to be quite brittle and distant but he wasn't like that at all. He was a very warm, wonderful man,” Cox said.

The pair remained in contact after the filming of Molokai, catching up “a few times” in London.

“He was a great, great human being... very funny and incredibly intelligent.”Among O'Toole's more ridiculous roles was Macbeth, performed at the Old Vic in 1980. It was an attempt to restore the fortunes of that playhouse after the National Theatre had left it in 1976. Contradicting the advice he had given as Hamlet to the players at the same theatre under Laurence Olivier's direction 17 years earlier, he sawed the air with his hands, tore passions to tatters, and ranted until the audience laughed in his face.

None-the-less, the production, disowned by fellow members of the Old Vic board, broke records in London and in the provinces. "I just wanted a crack at Macbeth on the principle of getting the worst over first," O'Toole said at the time. "In the history of the British theatre, only three actors have pulled it off: [William] Macready, [David] Garrick, and [Donald] Wolfit - and now me. I enjoyed every second."

Among his more sublime performances was that of the dazed and lonely protagonist journalist in Keith Waterhouse's Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (Apollo, 1989; revived 1999), reminiscing, ruminating, urinating, swaying, and stranded overnight in a London pub with a plastic carrier bag of liquor.

O'Toole, himself an experienced alcoholic, long since reformed, brought so much authenticity, poise and painful sincerity to the performance that many playgoers could not believe he was acting.

He loved the excitement and uncertainty of the theatre. "If I hadn't become an actor I probably would have become a criminal," he said once.

- with The Telegraph