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Peter O’Toole: Lad from Leeds who became one of screen greats

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Tributes have been paid to actor Peter O’Toole, the Leeds-raised star of the Oscar-winning epic Lawrence Of Arabia, who died on Saturday after a long illness.

The acclaimed leading man, who grew up in the Hunslet and Holbeck areas of the city and started his working life at the Yorkshire Evening Post, died at the Wellington hospital in London at the age of 81.

His agent Steve Kenis, who announced the news last night, said: “He was one of a kind in the very best sense and a giant in his field.”

O’Toole’s daughter, actress Kate O’Toole, said: “His family are very appreciative and completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us, during this unhappy time. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts,”

“In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished.”

In the meantime, she asked for the family to be afforded space to grieve in private, adding: “Thank you all again for your beautiful tributes - keep them coming.”

It is not known whether Seamus Peter O’Toole was born in Leeds or Dublin on August 2, 1932, but his upbringing was certainly in Leeds where he attended a Catholic school but renounced religion at the age of 15.

He was evacuated from the city during the war and on his return became a photographic assistant at the YEP. After five years the editor told him: “You’ll never make a reporter – try something else.”

A spell serving in the Royal Navy followed before deciding to study at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Early stage successes included the lead in Hamlet and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice but it was 50 years ago, in the title role of Lawrence Of Arabia that O’Toole, appearing in his first major film, was catapulted to international screen stardom.

His performance as British adventurer T.E. Lawrence was described by American film producer Sam Spiegel as “un-equalled in modern cinema”.

He went on to record eight Academy Award nominations, yet he never won Hollywood’s top acting honour.

In 2003, aged 70, he received an honorary Oscar, often given as a consolation prize for acclaimed actors who had missed out on the biggest prize.

Retiring from showbusiness last year, he said he “bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell”.

 

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