President Michael D Higgins has led the tributes to acting giant Peter O’Toole, who has died in London at the age of 81.

The Connemara born screen legend, star of "Lawrence of Arabia," died in the hospital after a long illness, according to his family.

His actress daughter Kate O’Toole said: “The family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us.”

Irish President Higgins added: “Ireland, and the world, has lost one of the giants of film and theater.
“He was unsurpassed for the grace he brought to every performance on and off the stage.

“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 humor and generous friendship.”

Born in Connemara in Galway, O’Toole emigrated to Britain at a young age with his impoverished family.

He began his acting career as an exciting young talent on the British stage with his 1955 performance with the Bristol Old Vic theater company in the title role of the critically acclaimed "Hamlet."

He hit international stardom in 1962 when Sir David Lean cast him in "Lawrence of Arabia" as British adventurer TE Lawrence, the World War One soldier and scholar who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks.

The movie won several Oscars, although O'Toole was not one of the winners. Hellraiser O’Toole received eight Academy Award nominations, but he did not win a gong until 2003 when he was given a special Oscar by his peers for his contribution to film.

The New York Times said of him, “Blond, blue-eyed and well over six feet tall, Mr. O’Toole had the dashing good looks and high spirits befitting a leading man - and he did not disappoint in 'Lawrence,' David Lean’s wide-screen, almost-four-hour homage to T. E. Lawrence, the daring British soldier and adventurer who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks in the Middle East in World War I.”

His greatest performances included Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ and Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ on the stage.

On screen he starred twice as a robust King Henry II: first opposite Richard Burton in ‘Becket’ and then with Katharine Hepburn as his queen in ‘The Lion in Winter’.

He also earned an Oscar nomination for best actor as the repressed, decaying schoolmaster in ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips’ in 1970 and the crazed 14th Earl of Gurney in ‘The Ruling Class’ in 1973.

Richard Burton once called him ‘the most original actor to come out of Britain since the war with something odd, mystical and deeply disturbing’ in his work.

British actor Sir Michael Gambon, who appeared with O’Toole when he played Hamlet in the National Theatre’s first production in 1963, said: “He was a great actor. His early years were the best I thought. He was great fun to be with. He will be missed badly.”

Sir John Standing, a fellow actor and O’Toole’s best friend for more than 60 years, said he had been lucky enough to work with him five times.

Standing said: “He was electrifying, which is what made him a star. You wanted to watch him no matter what he did.

“He was brilliantly funny as well. He couldn’t wait to make you, either on stage or off stage, laugh. He was a delight to work with. He was an amazingly brave and generous man.”

A statement from Britain’s National Theatre said: “We are very sorry to hear of Peter O’Toole’s death, particularly coming so soon after the National’s 50th anniversary prompted widespread recollection of his memorable performance as Hamlet in the NT’s opening production at the Old Vic in 1963.”

Referring to his wild man antics off stage, Standing added: “He was larger than life and not frightened - he was fearless. We got up to some rare old tricks together in Dublin, you know. When you find a sort of kindred spirit who is prepared to go to crazy lengths, it’s very cool to be with him.
“The fact that I’m never ever going to see him again is dreadful.”
Here’s the IBTimes UK report on his death: