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Reluctant O'Toole pledges to cling to Oscar

After years of hoping for an Oscar, Peter O'Toole finally won an Academy Award, but it was not the one 70-year-old eccentric actor has wanted.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2003 15:07 IST

After years of hoping for an Oscar, Peter O'Toole finally won one Sunday's -- but it was not one the 70-year-old eccentric actor has always wanted.

O'Toole was granted an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement after seven Oscar nominations for best actor during his 40-plus years in film without winning the ultimate honor.

But the movie industry's most coveted prize goes to a reluctant O'Toole.

When organizers announced in January that the star of "Lawrence of Arabia," "My Favorite Year" and "Good-Bye Mr. Chips" was to receive the honorary prize, O'Toole -- famed for his eccentricity as well as for his talent -- asked them to put off the honor for 10 years.

Since O'Toole was "still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright, would the Academy please defer the honor until I am 80?" he wrote in a letter.

But O'Toole was in Hollywood on Sunday and fought back tears as he accepted the Oscar from Meryl Streep.

"Always a bridesmaid and never a bride my foot," he joked.

"I have my own Oscar now that will be with me till death do us part."

Oscar bosses said they were "bemused and sorry" to receive the request, the first time someone had attempted to turn down the honorary award, but said Oscars were not negotiable.

"Peter O'Toole - whose remarkable talents have provided cinema history with some of its most memorable characters," read the citation accompanying the award.

Born in Ireland and raised in Britain, O'Toole was one of the leading British actors of the 1960s and 1970s.

The son of a bookie, O'Toole quit school at 14 to become a reporter and worked his way up from messenger and copy boy to cub reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post.

After serving with the Royal Navy for two years, he studied on a scholarship at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where his classmates included Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Richard Harris and Derek Jacobi.

He began his professional acting career in 1955 with the Bristol Old Vic company and roles on British television.

He was catapulted into the spotlight with his portrayal of Lawrence of Arabia in David Lean's 1962 epic. The movie was his first leading role, leading to his first Oscar nomination, and turned him into an international star and one of the biggest box-office attractions during the 1960s and 1970s.

A drinking problem nearly destroyed his career, but after giving up alcohol and undergoing treatment, O'Toole made a comeback in 1982 with "My Favorite Year," which earned him yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination.

He also received nominations for "Becket" in 1964, "The Lion in Winter" in 1968, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" in 1969, "The Ruling Class" in 1972 and "The Stunt Man" in 1980.

When announcing O'Toole's honorary Oscar in January, Oscar bosses said: "O'Toole's performances have ignited the screen for more than four decades... The Board of Governors felt it was time for him to hold his own Oscar in his hands."

First Published: Mar 24, 2003 09:51 IST