Remembering Peter O'Toole, Stage And Screen Giant, Lover Of Language

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Actor Peter O'Toole was recognizable by his whip-thin frame, brilliant blue eyes, and the way he commanded the stage and screen. O'Toole died over the weekend in London at the age of 81. Melissa Block remembers the legendary actor, whose films include Lawrence of Arabia and The Lion in Winter, and his love for Shakespeare's sonnets.


Now, a moment to mark the death of a legend.


PETER O'TOOLE: (As T.E. Lawrence) He likes your lemonade.

BLOCK: Peter O'Toole died Saturday at the age of 81. No matter the character he was playing, O'Toole commanded your attention. That elegant, whip-thin frame, those piercing blue eyes - he was electrifying to watch - and his voice. Whether he was a battle-shocked Lawrence of Arabia...


O'TOOLE: (As T.E. Lawrence) Prisoners, sir. We took them prisoners, the entire garrison. No, that's not true. We killed some. Too many, really. I'll manage it better next time.

BLOCK: ...or the scruffy, plotting Plantagenet King Henry II in "The Lion in Winter"...


O'TOOLE: (As King Henry II) I know your plans and expectations. You've burbled every bit of strategy you've got. I know exactly what you will do and exactly what you won't, and I've told you exactly nothing. To these aged eyes, boy, that's what winning looks like.

BLOCK: ...or a washed up movie actor just told he's about to do live TV in "My Favorite Year."


O'TOOLE: (As Alan Swann) Audience, what audience? Audience?

MARK LINN-BAKER: (As Benjy Stone) You knew there was an audience. What did you think those seats were for?

O'TOOLE: (as Alan Swann) I haven't performed in front of an audience for 28 years. Audience? I played a butler. I had one line. I forgot it.

LINN-BAKER: (As Benjy Stone) Don't worry. This is gonna be easy.

O'TOOLE: (As Alan Swann) For you, maybe. Not for me. I'm not an actor. I'm a movie star.

BLOCK: Peter O'Toole was very much both an actor and a movie star during his six decades on stage and screen. He was also a serious lover of language and of Shakespeare's sonnets.

O'TOOLE: Nothing, in my view, in the English language compares with the Shakespeare sonnets.

BLOCK: That's Peter O'Toole talking with me in 2007 about his role in the movie "Venus." His character recites one of those sonnets and he told me he picked an old favorite.

O'TOOLE: Everyone knows "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day." So I said, let's do an old song rather than some of the more obscure sonnets.

BLOCK: So you would've known this one by heart. You didn't have to...

O'TOOLE: I'm afraid I know all 156 of them.

BLOCK: You don't.

O'TOOLE: I do. They're my life companion. They're at the side of my bed. They travel with me. I pick them up and I read them all the time. I find them endlessly informing, endlessly beautiful, endlessly - they say, they hit the spot so many times on so many things.

BLOCK: Could I ask you to tell us one now?

O'TOOLE: Tell you one? Any one in particular?

BLOCK: Whatever you like.

O'TOOLE: Oh, my mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun. Coral is far more red than her lips' red. If snow be white, why then her breasts be dun. If hair be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, but no such roses see I in her cheeks. And in some perfumes is there more delight than on the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know that music hath a far more pleasing sound. I swear I never saw a goddess go. My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground. And yet - anything - I've forgotten the last couplet.

BLOCK: That's just wonderful, to...

O'TOOLE: Just popped into my head.

BLOCK: Well, you did very well.


BLOCK: And you're going to remember that last couplet as soon as you leave the studio, I know.

O'TOOLE: And yet I believe my love more fair than any she belied with false compare. There.

BLOCK: Done.

O'TOOLE: Not a very good couplet, is it?


O'TOOLE: That's probably why I can't remember it.

BLOCK: That's the late Peter O'Toole, talking with me back in 2007. O'Toole died Saturday in London. He was 81.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from