An interesting article written six years ago.......
LAST MAN STANDING: How Peter O'Toole outlived cinema's biggest hellraisers.
"As a teenager, Peter O'Toole scribbled a pledge in his notebook: "I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony."
How right he was. Now 75 and still going strong, even he could surely never have predicted quite how uncommon his life would prove to be, or how churned up those smooth sands might become.
A natural eccentric, Peter O'Toole's legendary love of drinking only accentuated his off-beat behaviour, leaving the world agog at his escapades when fame threw a spotlight on them.
This was a man who travelled the world yet never wore a watch or carried a wallet. Nor, on leaving his house, did he ever take his keys with him.
"I just hope some bastard's in," he'd say.
More than once, when someone was not in, O'Toole found himself having to explain to the police why he was breaking into his own property.
Peter O'Toole was born in 1932 in Connemara, Ireland, for which he retained a lifelong affection, although he moved to Leeds at the age of just one.
The neighbourhood where O'Toole grew up was rough, and three of his playmates were later hanged for murder. "I'm not from the working class," O'Toole liked to say. "I'm from the criminal class."
Although it was his mother, Connie, who instilled in O'Toole a strong sense of literature, by far the biggest influence in his young life was his father, Patrick, a bookie who was often drunk.
One day, Patrick stood his young son up on the mantelpiece and said: "Jump, boy. I'll catch you. Trust me."
When O'Toole jumped, his father withdrew his arms, leaving the boy splattered on the hard stone floor. The lesson, said his father, was "never trust any bastard".
Later, father and son often got plastered together, such as the occasion in London when Patrick came down from Leeds in 1959.
The O'Tooles got slaughtered and as everyone retired to bed, Peter lay spread-eagled on the floor, "not asleep, but crucified", as he later said.
Patrick tried lifting his flagging son to his feet, but to no avail. Instead he opened another bottle and joined him on the floor. That's where the pair were found the following afternoon.
O'Toole's childhood was dogged by ill health, and although he could read by the age of three, he did not attend school regularly until he was 11.
He left two years later with no qualifications and one ambition: to sell second-hand Jaguars.
When this failed to materialise, he landed a job on his local newspaper, the Yorkshire Evening News.
Starting as a tea boy, O'Toole did a stint as a reporter, covering stories with the likes of future columnist Keith Waterhouse and author Barbara Taylor Bradford.
He quickly concluded, however, that this was not the career for him, a view shared by his editor.
"I soon found out that, rather than chronicling events, I wanted to be the event," he said.
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To help achieve this, he landed a scholarship at RADA in a class that include future stars Alan Bates and Albert Finney.
In 1959, O'Toole was cast as a Cockney sergeant in the play The Long And The Short And The Tall at the Royal Court Theatre.
His understudy was a young Michael Caine, and one Saturday night after the show O'Toole invited him to a restaurant he knew.
Eating a plate of egg and chips was the last thing Caine remembered, until he woke up in broad daylight in a strange flat.
"What time is it?" he inquired. "Never mind what time it is," said O'Toole. "What f***ing day is it?"
It turned out that it was five o'clock in the afternoon two days later. Curtain-up was at eight.
Back at the theatre, the stage manager was waiting for them with the news that the restaurant owner had been in and banned them from his establishment for life.
Caine was about to ask what they'd done when O'Toole whispered: "Never ask what you did. It's better not to know."
Most evenings after the show, O'Toole would enjoy a long walk around Covent Garden. Sometimes if he was in the mood, he'd scale the wall of Lloyds bank.
The first time he took his future wife, the actress Sian Phillips, on one of these nocturnal jaunts, she was startled when he began his ascent of the north face of the building.
But after a few nights she came to accept that, by O'Toole's standards anyway, it was quite normal.
It was the sheer unpredictability of the man that had attracted her to him in the first place.
He once showed up in a sports car yelling: "Get your passport, we're off!" Heading for Rome, they took a wrong turning and ended up in Yugoslavia.
By the end of the trip, Sian's nerves were in shreds as a result of O'Toole's manic driving.
After he'd once taken a friend to Amsterdam, the unfortunate woman later confided to Sian: "He should never drive anything. He's lovely, but I thought we were going to die."
Over the years, cars and O'Toole have never been the best of friends. One woman who accepted a lift from him swore afterwards that she would never do so again.
During the journey, he had ignored a Keep Left sign on the grounds that it was "silly", and also narrowly avoided driving down a flight of steps.
O'Toole's first proper film credit was a small role in Walt Disney's 1959 movie Kidnapped. Amazingly, on his very first day he overslept, and the angry film company had to phone the home of the actor Kenneth Griffith, where O'Toole was staying, to find out where he was.
riffith popped his head round O'Toole's bedroom door - he was fast asleep. "O'Toole," he shouted. "You're 45 minutes late."
Lifting his bedraggled head off the pillow, O'Toole asked if his car had arrived.
"No," said Griffith. O'Toole's head crashed back onto the pillow. "No car, no me," he said.
"From that day to this, there has been a Rolls-Royce waiting for him," Griffith once revealed. Even on his first day, O'Toole was behaving like the star he would later become.
The star of Kidnapped was the Australian actor Peter Finch, a mighty drinker. Not surprisingly, he and O'Toole became great friends.
During one of their legendary boozing sessions in Ireland in the Sixties they were refused a drink because it was after closing time.
Both stars decided that the only course of action was to buy the pub, so they wrote out a cheque for it.
The following morning, after sobering up, the pair rushed back to the scene of the crime. Luckily the landlord hadn't cashed the cheque and disaster was averted.
O'Toole and Finch remained friends with the pub owner, and when he died his wife invited them to his funeral.
Both knelt at the graveside as the coffin was lowered in, sobbing noisily. When Finch turned away, unable to stand it any more, O'Toole saw his friend's face change from a look of sorrow to one of total astonishment.
They were at the wrong funeral; their friend was being buried 100 yards away.
In his late 20s, O'Toole became the youngest leading man ever at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, where he took the opportunity to seal his growing reputation as a hellraiser.
At one after-show party O'Toole held court on stage sitting on a throne, sustained by two pedal bins on either side of him, one full of beer, the other containing hard liquor into which he would alternately scoop two pint mugs.
But his tearaway existence was taking its toll, and O'Toole's doctors warned him that he needed to cut out the booze.
For the rest of the season, O'Toole made a great show of downing large quantities of milk, although he remained sceptical.
"I get drunk and disorderly and all that, but I don't think it's true that there is any danger of me destroying myself," he said.
When director David Lean was casting the lead in Lawrence Of Arabia in 1959, he favoured O'Toole, but producer Sam Spiegel had reservations because of his reputation.
Having seen his screen test, however, he had to admit they'd found their Lawrence.
Lawrence Of Arabia occupied O'Toole for two years, filming in seven different countries.
By the end of it, he'd lost 2st, received third-degree burns, sprained both ankles, torn ligaments in both his hip and thigh, dislocated his spine, broken his thumb, sprained his neck and been concussed twice.
But his extraordinary performance made him a star. Lawrence Of Arabia was a world-wide smash when it opened in 1962 and was hailed as one of cinema's true masterpieces.
"I woke up one morning to find I was famous," he said. "I bought a white Rolls-Royce and drove down Sunset Boulevard, wearing dark specs and a white suit, waving like the Queen Mum.
"Nobody took any f***ing notice, but I thoroughly enjoyed it."
His family life, however, was suffering. When one of his daughters was ill, he paid her a visit in the nursery. Days later, the child asked Sian: "You know that man who came to see me, Mummy - who is he?"
After that, Sian made a point of pinning up stills of O'Toole's current film or stage guises to avoid any misunderstandings.
The filming of the 1968 historical drama The Lion In Winter, in which O'Toole starred with Katharine Hepburn, was notable for a series of bizarre incidents.
Shooting a scene on a lake one day, O'Toole trapped his finger between two boats. "Bloody agony it was," he said. "Took the top right off."
O'Toole carried the tip of his finger back to shore, dipped it into a glass of brandy to sterilise it and then pushed it back on, wrapping it in a poultice.
Three weeks later he unwrapped it and there it was, all crooked and bent.
"I'd put it back the wrong way, probably because of the brandy, which I drank," explained O'Toole.
Another time, he awoke at 4am to discover that his bed was on fire.
"At first I tried to put the thing out myself, but I couldn't read the small print on the fire extinguisher," he said.
"By the time the first fireman arrived, I was so glad to see him I kissed him."
O'Toole didn't have much luck with fires. During a cottage holiday in Wales with Sian, he had decided to cook, although she had never seen him do so before.
"I can make the best French toast," he told her. Minutes later the stove exploded into flames.
They tried to extinguish the fire, but it was impossible, and they were driven out into the garden, where they watched in the rain as the kitchen burnt down.
Meanwhile, O'Toole's film career was hardly going from strength to strength. One of his commercial flops was the 1968 movie The Great Catherine, a moribund historical effort that hardly got a cinema run.
During filming, O'Toole's habit was to go back to his dressing room when not required, ostensibly to rest and learn his lines.
In reality, he opened a bottle of champagne and chatted to his minder, who drove him around and got him home safely after a night on the sauce.
One afternoon, director Gordon Fleming sent an assistant to fetch O'Toole.
The assistant found the dressing room empty, with a TV showing horse-racing from Sandown Park, not far from the studio.
Suddenly, the TV camera zoomed in and there, in the crowd, was O'Toole cheering on the horses.
A car was dispatched to bring the errant actor back to the studio. O'Toole arrived all smiles, thinking it was one big joke.
During the Sixties, O'Toole had blazed a mighty trail of hell-raising, but as the decade came to a close he was approaching his 40s and some wondered if he was getting tired of lugging around his reputation as a drunkard and general crank.
"The damage has been done," he lamented. "There is a legend, there is a myth: to protest is daft."
In 1975, when he was 43, matters were taken out of his hands. An abdominal irregularity he'd persistently ignored (he hated doctors) finally erupted and he was rushed into hospital for a major operation.
For years, O'Toole refused to say what the problem was. "My plumbing is no one's business but my own," he said.
In fact, O'Toole came as close to dying as you can without doing so. "It was a photo-finish, the surgeons said," he said.
There was so little of his digestive system left that any amount of alcohol could prove fatal. Having come so close to death, O'Toole was determined to live each day to the full.
"The time has come to stop roaming," he said. "The pirate ship has berthed. I can still make whoopee, but now I do it sober."
That was more than 30 years ago. Now, in his mid-70s, Peter O'Toole has outlived all his fellow hellraisers and is still very much in the game.
In 2004, he played Priam in the epic Troy, which also starred Orlando Bloom, Brad Pitt and Sean Bean, a self-confessed O'Toole aficionado.
"The first time I met him on the set," recalled Bean, "he was in a robe with a cigarette holder and he said: 'Sean, how are you, dear boy?' He was just how I imagined him to be."
Last year, O'Toole notched up his eighth Oscar nomination for his performance in Venus, the story of an almost wholly platonic romance between an elderly thespian and a 21-year-old girl.
O'Toole was delighted at the script and at his casting.
"No one better for a dirty old man who falls for a sluttish young woman," he said. Sadly, the coveted Oscar still eludes him, although he remains hopeful.
So O'Toole is the last surviving British reprobate. "The common denominator of all my friends is that they're dead," he said.
"There was a time when I felt like a perpendicular cuckoo clock, popping up and down in pulpits saying: 'Fear no more the heat o' the sun.' They were dying like flies."
But like all the other hellraisers, he has never once regretted the mistakes he made.
"I loved the drinking, and waking up in the morning to find I was in Mexico," he said. "It was part and parcel of being an idiot." Long may he continue."