O’Toole remembered fondly at Old Vic
By Shelley Marsden
PRESIDENT Higgins has paid tribute to Peter O’Toole at a memorial in London at the weekend, where it was revealed that the Áras is housing the star’s ashes before they are brought to his much-loved home in Clifden, Galway.
O’Toole, who died in December aged 81, was remembered at a moving celebration of his life and work, entitled Still Loitering, at London’s Old Vic Theatre on Sunday, a theatre which O’Toole considered his spiritual home.
The event was attended by fellow actors including Old Vic Artistic Director Kevin Spacey, Trevor Eve, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, Sinead Cusack and Jeremy Irons and Omar Sharif, who co-starred in David Lean’s 1952 epic Lawrence of Arabia, still one of O’Toole’s most iconic films.
David Lean’s 1952 epic won seven Oscars, but not a Best Actor for O’Toole, who was nominated eight times but who never received a gold statuette in his lifetime.
Albert Finney, also there, and remembered the pair joining the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London together in 1953. Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch read out an extract from O’Toole’s memoir Loitering with intent: The Child.
Guest of honour President Higgins, a friend of the actor’s since the late 1960s, who explained he met O’Toole through mutual friend Frank Kelly, attended with his wife Sabina on the invite of his daughter Kate O’Toole.
Kate revealed that her father’s ashes were in “safe deposit with the President” until she was able to return home and fulfil his final wishes.
An irreverent afternoon of anecdotes, tears and laughter, it saw Kate speak of her father preparing to play TE Lawrence, reading up on Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in which the British army officer had written that “the dreamers of the day are dangerous men because they may act out their dreams with open eyes”.
She said: “My father took those words to heart when he was studying for the role. But I am sure that he understood long before he read them. The world has lost a great actor, no doubt. But I am not concerned about that – I have simply lost a great dad.”
Mr Higgins said that to be in O’Toole’s company or to share his friendship “was not an experience in the raising of hell – as some tabloids would have it – rather it was about the witness of great talent, mischief and genius too.”
The President reflected on his friend’s longevity in a career that lasted over five decades, as well as a lifelong passion for his craft.
“It was that affirmative sense of hope and sophisticated sense of what was important in his craft that allowed him to embrace with enthusiasm each of his eight Oscar nominations for an acting role without harbouring any resentment a lesser mortal would have felt when the cruel serendipities of timing snatched from his grasp, what others might have considered, the ultimate prize.”
He added: “Peter was above all ‘graceful’ in every fibre of his being. I see him stretching his long arms and fingers to say the word ‘fiasco’ as no-one ever enunciated it before or will again. I miss him. To have had his friendship was a great gift.
“I imagine Peter’s soul still walking the Sky Road in Clifden, on guard against the return of the rabbits, still coaching cricket and still shouting at the television.
Mr Higgins concluded by saying: “We will not see his like again.”
The occasion also marked the launch of The Peter O’Toole Prize – an annual prize which will be awarded to two young actors from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where Peter launched his career.
Donations can be made via the Bristol Old Vic website at the link bristololdvic.org.uk/otooleprize.