President leads tributes to Peter O'Toole, a legend fiercely proud of his Irish heritage
BRITISH by birth, but Irish at heart, Peter O'Toole has died aged 81.
One of the greatest actors of the last century, he died peacefully having battled stomach cancer for the last 18 months.
O'Toole -- who held an Irish passport -- came to international prominence thanks to his starring role in David Lean's epic 1962 film, 'Lawrence of Arabia'.
President Higgins led tributes, saying: "I was privileged to know him as a friend since 1969. I spent part of 1979 in Clifden where we met almost daily and all of us who knew him in the west will miss his warm humour and generous friendship.
"Sabina and I and our children will miss him, as will all those who saw him on screen or stage or had the privilege, as I had, of enjoying his friendship and humour."
In 1979, O'Toole agreed to play Jim Larkin in RTE's 'Strumpet City', about the 1913 Lockout.
Fair City star Bryan Murray, who appeared in the acclaimed RTE series, recalled the excitement when O'Toole walked on set. "In the series you see the workers electrified by Jim Larkin, but it's Peter O'Toole they were reacting to," he said.
"He was the biggest star on the planet and the buzz was phenomenal.
"As for his performance, all I can say is that you didn't have to do much acting opposite Peter O'Toole."
British Prime Minister David Cameron said "his performance in my favourite film, Lawrence of Arabia, was stunning", while O'Toole's agent, Steve Kenis, said, "he was one of a kind in the very best sense and a giant in his field".
Comedian Stephen Fry said: "Oh what terrible news. Farewell Peter O'Toole. I had the honour of directing him in a scene. Monster, scholar, lover of life, genius."
Actor Gabriel Byrne said he was "one of the most elegant, graceful and charismatic actors of all time".
Comedian David Walliams recalled when he and acting partner Matt Lucas had drinks with O'Toole in Los Angeles.
"He was hugely entertaining. The greatest company. A legend on screen and off."
Despite the large number of nominations he received throughout his 50-year career, O'Toole would never win an Oscar. He was, however, given an honorary Academy Award in 2003, which he initially refused, saying he was "still in the game" and would like more time to "win the lovely bugger outright".
He was born Peter Seamus Lorcan O'Toole on August 2, 1932. For many years, he said he hailed from Ireland although he listed both Connemara and Leeds as possible places of birth in his memoir. It was later reported that his birth had been registered in the Yorkshire city.
His bookmaker father was from Galway and O'Toole was fiercely proud of his roots.
He would spend much of his life with his family in Connemara, which he considered a refuge from Hollywood's pressures.
A blond, blue-eyed six-footer, the young O'Toole was famed for his good looks. 'Lawrence' helped land him several major historical parts. He twice portrayed King Henry II: first opposite Richard Burton in 'Becket'; then with Katherine Hepburn in 'The Lion in Winter'.
O'Toole was cinema's great hellraiser, whose appetite for drink and debauchery in his 1960s heyday was only matched by that of his friends and rivals Oliver Reed, Richard Harris and Richard Burton. He claimed to have squandered most of his 'Lawrence' earnings with co-star Omar Sharif at casinos in Beirut and Casablanca.
He retired in July 2012 after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, although last month it was announced he had accepted a part in the historical epic 'Katherine of Alexandria', which is due to be released next year.
He is survived by two daughters, Kate and Patricia, and a son, Lorcan.
Kate O'Toole said that "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."