The Corner

Peter O’Toole: He Loved Drink, Feared the Taxman

The great British actor Peter O’Toole has died at the age of 81.

Starting with the epic Lawrence of Arabia, he was nominated for eight Academy Awards but never won one. When he was given an honorary Oscar a decade ago, OToole almost refused the prize, insisting, “I am still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright.”

One reason he didn’t is perhaps his reputation for hard drinking, which sometimes meant he wasn’t available for some roles. He once famously arrived on the Late Show with David Letterman, disheveled but snappily dressed, on top of a camel. Dismounting, he slurred: “Excuse me, but my noble transport is a little thirsty,” and gave the animal a can of beer.

He finally slowed down after a 1975 hospitalization during which he almost died. “The time has come to stop roaming,” he said at the time. “The pirate ship has berthed. I can still make whoopie, but now I do it sober.” He largely lived up to that promise.

I once had the pleasure of interviewing O’Toole for my college newspaper when he came to my home town of Fair Oaks, Calif., to shoot scenes for his 1980 movie The Stunt Man. We had a beer at the local Stockman’s Bar and he proved a delightful raconteur. But when it came to politics, the son of a bookmaker made it clear he was loyal to his Labour-party roots. He had some biting words for his fellow actor Ronald Reagan, who was preparing to run for president.

But O’Toole could also laugh at himself. He recalled that after he struck it rich in the 1960s, he tried to bully everyone in his household into voting Labour. He thought he had succeeded with everyone, until his working-class driver told him he had taken the Rolls down to the polling station and voted Conservative because his own taxes were too high.

That, he said, got him to thinking. He admitted his fellow actors Michael Caine and Sean Connery had a point when they said Britain’s high tax rates did discourage work, and moved themselves overseas. The year we spoke, Margaret Thatcher began cutting Britain’s tax rates, negating the need for O’Toole to ponder joining them.

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