Peter O’Toole, the actor who rose to international fame nearly overnight as T.E. Lawrence in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, died December 14th in a London hospital. His daughter, the actress Kate O’Toole, said in a statement that he had been ill for some time. He was 81 years old.
He was 6 foot 2 inches with sandy blonde hair, eyes like a hurricane, and a jaw like a rocks glass. The epitome of the 1960s leading man, he was known as much for his on-screen bravado as his so-called “lost weekends” off screen. After his first leading role in Lawrence as the British archaeologist-turned-soldier who led an Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire during WWI, O’Toole was nominated for his first of eight Oscars. The 60s and early 70s continued to see O’Toole invoking power and extravagance in his roles that led to subsequent Oscar nods: Henry II in 1964’s Beckett and another Henry II, opposite Katharine Hepburn, in 1968’s The Lion in Winter; Arthur Chipping in 1970’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips; and in the last film of his peak career years, the mad 14th Earl of Gurney in The Ruling Class.
But the roles O’Toole took were not always magnanimous filmic accomplishments (for example, Woody Allen’s 1965 What’s New, Pussycat?), and several were universally panned, like Night of the Generals (1967) and Caligula in 1979. But those years too saw his off-screen reputation grow. Known as having a predilection for gambling and the tracks, he allegedly lost most of his Lawrence of Arabia earnings in two nights gambling with his co-star Omar Sharif, The New York Times reported. So perhaps it wasn’t so facetious when he once explained in an interview that he took lesser roles because “it’s what I do for a living and, besides, I’ve got bookies to keep.”
“We heralded the ‘60s,” he once said, according to The Irish Times. “Me, [Richard] Burton, Richard Harris; we did in public what everyone else did in private then, and does for show now. We drank in public, we knew about pot.” Though he gave up most drinking in the late 70s, he continued to smoke unfiltered Gauloises through a long cigarette holder the rest of his life.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins too counted O’Toole as “a friend since 1969,” when Higgins spent part of the year in Clifden with him, meeting “almost daily,” he told The Irish Times. “All of us who knew him in the west will miss his warm humour and generous friendship.”
According to The Washington Post, another explanation he provided links his ups and downs to his Irish heritage. “The Celts are, at rock bottom, deep pessimists,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something in me that after I build something, I knock it down – just for the hell of it.”
Peter Seamus O’Toole was born in either Connemara or Leeds on August 2, 1932. (Some sources also say “Seamus Peter.”) While O’Toole himself said his birthplace was uncertain, he was raised in Leeds by his mother Constance, a Scottish nurse, and his father Patrick, an Irishman from the west and a frequently indebted traveling bookie, yet whose affected upper class mannerisms and dress earned him the nickname “Spats.” According to The New York Times, O’Toole liked to joke that he was brought up “not working class but criminal class.” His father in fact lost most of the use of his right hand after his knuckles were broken by debt collectors.
To support the family, O’Toole left school at 13 to work in the various industries Leeds had to offer, eventually making it to the copy room of The Yorkshire Evening News. This would have been a perfect job for O’Toole, who told The Washington Post in 1978 that his passion was language, if only he was any good at reporting. Instead, his editor fired him, telling O’Toole: “Try something else, be an actor, do anything.”
That was in the late 40s and O’Toole had already had some amateur acting roles, but his editor’s words spurred him, and by 1955, O’Toole had graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on a full scholarship. He spent the next years honing his craft on stage and receiving national acclaim in numerous Shakespearean roles, including Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” which was seen by the casting director of the upcoming Lawrence of Arabia.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that O’Toole seemed to regain some of his former clout as an actor, and in 2003 he was awarded an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. At the time, he had been nominated seven times and never won. His eighth Academy Award nomination came in 2006 for his portrayal of an aging actor consigned to play dying kings and sympathetic, but feeble-minded old men in Roger Mitchell’s Venus.
O’Toole retired from acting about a year ago and since lived a quiet life in his London home. In addition to his daughter Kate, he is survived by his other two children, his daughter Pat his son Lorcan, and his sister, Patricia Coombs.
1942 – 2013
Mike Hegan, the record-setting first-baseman who got his start at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland and ended his career as a color commentator for the Indians, died at his home in South Carolina late December. He was 71.
James Michael Hegan was born with baseball in his blood. His father, Jim Hegan, was the eminent Cleveland catcher from 1946 to 1957. After graduating high school, the younger Hegan played baseball and football at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts for a year before signing to the minor league system of the Yankees in 1961, where his father had recently joined the coaching staff. The Yankees brought him up to the major leagues in 1964, the same year they went to the World Series and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was traded in 1969 to the recently-formed Seattle Pilots, where Hegan had arguably his best season, hitting the franchise’s first home run in the first inning of the first game and making it to the All-Star team that year.
When the Pilots moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and became the Brewers, Hegan played 178 games as firstbaseman without committing an error, an MLB record he held until 2008. He retired in 1977 with a batting average of .242 and 53 home runs and returned to his hometown in 1989 to spend the next 23 seasons in the Indian’s broadcasting booth as one of the team’s signature voices. He is survived by Nancy McNeil, his wife of 50 years, their two sons, and four grandchildren.
1915 – 2013
Tyrone general practitioner turned civil rights advocate Dr. Conn McCluskey died at the age of 98 in December. Together, he and his wife, Patricia McCluskey, who passed away in 2011, are two of the primary founders of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. They are survived by their three daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
According to The Irish Times, even before he was born, Dr. McCluskey experienced sectarian discrimination. His parents moved to a house in a Protestant section of Dungannon but were intimidated into moving to the Catholic Warrenpoint, where he was born. By the early 1960s, McCluskey had experienced enough of the effects of Catholic discrimination on his own, particularly by the unionist-led Dungannon city housing authority. In 1963, he and his wife founded the the Homeless Citizen’s League as a direct response to its discriminatory housing practices. As former Independent Councillor Michael McLoughlin told The Tyrone Times: “As a Dungannon GPO, Dr. McCluskey had firsthand experience of the terrible deprivation experienced by the majority Dungannon population, who were subjugated by the minority.”
By 1967 he was the vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and his influential social justice pamphlet, “The Plain Truth,” played a key role in spreading awareness of the issues facing Catholics throughout the North.
Though he eventually left the campaign for civil rights at the outbreak of the Troubles, fearing it had become too radical, the former Irish nationalist politician Bríd Rodgers remembered the influence of the McCluskeys at the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland, saying “Many of the younger generation may not realise that in some measure they owe the status of equality that they now take for granted to the sacrifices of a general practitioner in Dungannon and his wife.”
Bernard L. Shaw
1945 – 2013
Bernard Lee Shaw was a San Francisco cop for 15 years before joining the staff of the Hearst Corporation in 1983 as vice president of corporate security. The company announced his death in December at the age of 68.
But he is known primarily for his marriage to Patty Hearst, who was famously kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army, an urban terrorist organization, and later convicted and sent to prison for committing crimes with the group itself.
Shaw was born into a working-class Irish-American family in San Francisco and was seen as an unlikely match for the heiress, who, in an interview with Conan O’Brien, once joked: “My parents gave us a Sears vacuum cleaner as a wedding present. They thought it wouldn’t last,” according to The New York Times.
The couple met in 1976 when Shaw was hired as part of a 20-man security team for Ms. Hearst, who survives him now as Mrs. Hearst Shaw, while she was released on bail pending conviction. When she was sentenced to prison, he reportedly visited her four times a week and they were married in 1979 after President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. He is also survived by their two daughters, two daughters from a previous marriage, and one granddaughter.