Tag Archives: Peter O’Toole

The Dark Is All Around Us: The Film Classic, The Lion in Winter

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#NoSpoilers

Christmas, and all the family is gathered together for the holidays. There’s a massive tree, lots of presents, spiced wine, feasting, and rancor galore. All the past year’s resentments and disappointments come bubbling to the surface because Daddy — a great, roaring lion of a man — is getting older and needs to think of which of his sons will follow him as the leader of the pride. He’s made no secret of his favorite, and his choice displeases everyone else. Mommy has her favorite, you see, and is determined to see that her special boy gets to succeed.

As if that weren’t enough tension and conflict, there’s yet another son who can’t understand why nobody in the family ever thinks of him when they think of the next head of the family business. To make everyone more edgy, let’s toss in the leader of a rival family, who has his own agenda, which mostly involves making sure the lion of this family goes down hard. To complicate things even further and make everything even more dangerous, lets throw in some tapestries for hiding behind, as well as some sharp, shiny knives — metaphorical and literal ones — for everyone to use against everybody else.

Welcome to the Christmas court of England’s Henry II in 1183. Adapted from James Goldman’s Broadway play of the same name, the witty, brutal, and passionate holiday gathering in the Oscar-winning classic The Lion in Winter (1968) makes crime dramas like The Godfather seem downright tame.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II (right) and Katharine Hepburn as his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (left), The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is 50 this Christmas, and he lets his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) out of prison for the holidays. It seems Eleanor has led quite a few civil wars against Henry, over the succession no doubt, and Henry has to keep her imprisoned in order to feel safe. He’s letting Eleanor out this holiday season so they can plan, i.e., plot, who will become the next king.

Anthony Hopkins as Richard, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Their first son, Henry, died, and while you might think that their next son, Richard (Anthony Hopkins, in his first starring role), should be the designated king, and Eleanor heartily approves of Richard as England’s next ruler, and not just because he’s her favorite. Richard, known later as Richard the Lionheart, is a great miliary leader and a proven warrior, and Queen Eleanor thinks that a necessary qualification for Henry’s successor, if only because France and England are still fighting over land.

(L-R) Nigel Terry as John, Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor, Anthony Hopkins as Richard, and John Castle as Geoffrey, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry is the King of England but also the Lord of Ireland, Count of Anjou (similar to the English Duke of York, which would make Henry second in line to the French throne), and Duke of both Normandy and Aquitaine (in France, through his marriage to Eleanor), and Henry II doesn’t want Richard as the future king of England. Henry has other ideas for his presumptive heir.

John Castle as Geoffrey (L), and Nigel Terry as John, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry wants his youngest son John (Nigel Terry) to succeed, not because he’d make a better king but simply because Henry loves John best.

Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France (L), John Castle as Geoffrey (center), and Nigel Terry as John, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

None of this squabbling over Richard vs. John sits too well with brother Geoffrey (John Castle), who can’t understand why both Henry and Eleanor think their middle son would make a wonderful chancellor to the next king but never seem to think of Geoff as King Geoffrey, so he begins to plot against his father with both Richard and John as well as with one of Henry’s allies.

Jane Merrow as Alais, and Peter O’Toole as Henry II, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Young Princess Alais (Jane Merrow), who’s betrothed to marry the future King of England, doesn’t want any of Henry’s sons to be the future king. As Henry’s lover and long-time mistress, she want’s no one but Henry as king.

Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Alais’ brother, King Philip II of France (Timothy Dalton, in his film debut) wants the lovely Alais to be wed to the heir to the English throne right away. If that doesn’t happen during this Christmas visit, Philip wants his sister’s dowry back. Since Alais’ dowry is land in France, which both England and France claim at the time, Henry certainly doesn’t want to give back the dowry. Philip already knows this, so he’s plotting with Richard, Geoffrey, and John, and Philip is planning war with Henry, no matter whom he chooses as his successor.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II (L), and Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry’s fighting with his wife and all three of his sons, not only about who will be the next king, but who will get to marry Princess Alais. Henry doesn’t really want to give us Alais either: he’s madly in love with her.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II, and Jane Merrow as Alais (foreground), and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

And Eleanor, despite inciting rebellion against her husband and king, still madly loves Henry herself, and she’s well aware that Alais just happens to be young enough to give Henry more sons.

The first 15-20 minutes of the film are a bit slow, probably because everyone was trying a little too hard to say, “Look: we’re making a film, not jusstage playplay,” and while we get to see some outdoor shots where we meet the members of the family, none of these initial scenes really adds to the forward movement of the story. Once everyone is gathered together, however, it becomes obvious why this film is a classic.

from L to R: Timothy Dalton, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Katharine Hepburn, John Castle, and (sitting in foreground, L to R) Nigel Terry, and Jane Merrow, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

The script is magnificent, the characters brutally fascinating, and the acting superb: O’Toole most definitely should have won an Oscar for his role as the anxious, angry, roaring Lion who feels his own winter coming on far too quickly and who is willing to do almost anything to prevent the destruction of his kingdom.

Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Peter O’Toole as Henry II of England, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Actor (O’Toole) and Best Costume Design (Margaret Furse), the film won three: Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Adapted Screenplay (James Goldman), and Best Music Score (John Barry). Lion in Winter also won BAFTAs for Hepburn and composer Barry, and won Golden Globes in Best Picture, and Best Actor for Peter O’Toole as the fiery Henry II.

Available for rent ($1.99-3.99) or purchase from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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My Favorite Film & TV Villains

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In the past, villains were bad guys, without any redeeming features, and heroes were good guys, with no bad qualities, except maybe a bad wardrobe or hairdo. Then came the era of anti-heroes: heroes who had some less than stellar qualities or who’d made some seriously bad decisions or life choices that prevented them from being perfect, like Lord Jim in Joseph Conrad’s novel of the same name (played to great effect by the late Peter O’Toole in the film, which is what made me read the novel in the first place, trying to understand Jim’s motivation).

Over the last couple decades, however, the villains have become sort of anti-villains, as books, movies, and television series show the villains as real human beings. No matter how bad, evil, or wicked the best villains are, they have some redeeming or interesting characteristics, whether it’s caring about women and children (limiting their violence to men, for example) or great senses of humor, or simply being absolutely faithful to their own moral codes, even if they’re criminal ones.

Here are my favorite film and television series villains, in no particular order. And it’s understood that, without the specific actors playing them in these roles, these fascinating and charismatic villains would simply not have been the same.

Hannibal Lecter
Silence of the Lambs

Boy, did Sir Anthony Hopkins deserve the Oscar he won for his chilling performance of serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the first film version featuring the character, Silence of the Lambs, from the Thomas Harris novels. Beginning with Lecter’s look — hairstyle and tightly fitted prison garb, which were Anthony Hopkins’ idea — to his voice, his facial expressions, and his threatening demeanor even when standing perfectly still, Hopkins’ Hannibal sent insomniac movie viewers into therapy because, though they were terrified by him, they were also fascinated. Ain’t that what makes a great villain these days? His very first scene, in the underground FBI prison cell, when Hannibal “The Cannibal” meets rookie agent Clarisse Starling (played by Jodi Foster) shows just a hint of how scary and charming Hopkins’ serial killer can be.

Warning: Language

Boyd Crowder
Justified

Walton Goggins, previously known for his role in “The Shield,” plays bad guy Boyd Crowder, the foil to and bane of US Marshal Raylan Givens’ (Timothy Olyphant) life. But the two grew up together, and their shared past, with divergent careers which are mutually exclusive, combined with the actors’ improvised lines in many of their scenes together, make Boyd a criminal whom audiences root for. In fact, Boyd was supposed to be killed at the end of the pilot for the show, but the initial screening audience chastised the studio so much for “killing” Boyd, that the pilot was rewritten. Despite “guest star” criminals each season, none has the fascinating personality or the chemistry with Olyphant’s Raylan Givens that Goggins’ Boyd Crowder has. This sequence shows his initial “Fire in the Hole” activity from the pilot (characters based on an initial story by that name and characters in subsequent stories by the late, great Elmore Leonard, who was an executive producer of the show till his death this year) as well as some other clips (interspersed by music that does not, unfortunately, come from the show, i.e., it’s not as good as the music in Justified). Still, the montage shows you some good examples of Boyd’s violent interactions as well as his humor and intelligence. Though nominated several times for an Emmy for this role, Goggins has never won: I hope they remedy that in 2015’s final season of the series.

Detective Norman Stansfield
The Professional

My first introduction to Gary Oldman’s formidable acting was in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where Oldman played the title character. But when I began to seek out his other films, I found this one, which is one of Oldman’s best. His corrupt Detective Norman Stansfield “directs” Beethoven before confronting a drug-dealer who has stolen from him. Stansfield displays a wicked sense of humor, both in what he says and does. “We said noon” is a great introduction to Oldman’s villainous Stansfield in a gripping film that also stars Natalie Portman, in her film debut, as the abused daughter of the man who stole from Detective Stansfield and whom Stansfield is seeking, and French actor Jean Reno as the professional hitman, Léon, “hired” by Portman’s Mathilda to protect her from Stansfield while teaching her to defend herself from him as well.

Warning: Violence

The Archangel Gabriel
The Prophecy
(Trilogy)

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I think Christopher Walken is one of the greatest actors ever. Comedy, Drama, Films, Theatre, Singing, Dancing, Hero, Villain — the man can do it all, and he does it all with consummate skill and amazing range. One of my favorite roles (and Walken’s, as he’s stated in interviews) is as the villainous yet deadpan-funny Archangel Gabriel in The Prophecy (Trilogy), where, in the Second Angel War, Gabriel is trying to steal the blackest human soul ever — which angel Simon has taken from the corpse and hidden in someone else’s body — to use that evil human soul in Gabriel’s fight to keep humans out of heaven.  Gabriel uses some of the human characters, whom he calls “talking monkeys,”  to  get things he can’t obtain himself or to travel (he can’t drive). He uses humans who were either suicides or criticially ill & dying patients, “reviving them” (or as Walken’s Gabriel describes it to Adam Goldberg’s character in the first film, “letting them die slower”). This montage, showing clips from the first two films in the trilogy, show his menace and his deadpan-humor. His scenes with Adam Goldberg (not included here), Amanda Plummer, and the late Brittany Murphy are among some of the best moments in the films. Walken’s Gabriel combines his fearsome portrayal of villains with his comedic talent, to great effect.

Tony Soprano
The Sopranos

Though marred by some uneven writing in a few of its seasons, the ground-breaking HBO series The Sopranos introduced us to New Jersey mob-boss Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini. And, boy, did Gandolfini play him to perfection. Totally loyal to his own criminal code, Tony Soprano was nevertheless a lying, philandering (unfaithful to both wife and mistresses), murderous criminal. The very premise of the show — a mob boss entering therapy because he’s having panic attacks — was part of its charm. Tony Soprano’s crush on his therapist, played by Lorraine Bracco, as well as his anger at her refusal to be anything but his psychologist and her insistence that he examine his “feelings” were among the show’s highlights. Gandolfini’s Emmy win(s) as Tony Soprano were well deserved for his consummate acting in this role. This “If you lie” scene, when Tony is attempting to uncover the identity of an FBI informant, show’s Gandolfini’s Soprano as his most fierce and most vulnerable.

Warning: Language

Sheriff Little Bill Daggett
Unforgiven

Sheriff Little Bill doesn’t like guns or violence in his town of Big Whiskey, despite or because of his own past as a gunslinger and killer. Played to Oscar-winning perfection by Gene Hackman, Little Bill is cruel and ruthless, but is building his own house (though he ain’t no carpenter) — Hackman’s idea — and a born storyteller, especially if he’s discrediting an old arch-enemy like English Bob (one of Richard Harris’ best roles) in front of his biographer W. W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). Repeatedly calling English Bob’s biography, titled The Duke of Death, the “Duck” of Death, and referring to English Bob as “The Duck”  — another of Hackman’s improvizations, which, according to director and co-star Clint Eastwood, caused the entire cast and crew to break out in uncontrollable laughter when Hackman first said it — Hackman’s Little Bill is wickedly funny without ever cracking a smile. At the same time, he’s deadly serious about the fact that he will be the only one doing any killing in his town. After he’s viciously beaten and kicked English Bob for carrying firearms within the town limits, then lying about it, Little Bill dares the biographer Beauchamp to try to shoot the sheriff (but not no deputy), then offers the gun to the imprisoned English Bob. The “First, You Got to Cock It” scene reveals Hackman’s Little Bill at his fiercest, bravest, psychologically cruelest, and most complex, and, ultimately, honest.

Al Swearengen
Deadwood

If you’ve never seen HBO’s Deadwood — with its multi-star cast, superb writing, outstanding storytelling, fascinating characters, and historical accuracy — then you don’t, as they say, know what you’re missing. Ian McShane’s portrayal of Al Swearengen, owner of the Gem Saloon/Brothel and one of the “founding fathers” of Deadwood SD while it was still a territory illegally on Native American land, makes him the classic villain for all time. Foul-mouthed, violent, sarcastic, murderous, and otherwise cruel to the point of sadism, McShane’s Swearengen is nevertheless also empathetic,  a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and abandonment, and frequently hurt by those whom he believes he can trust (though he usually reacts in anger to betrayal). Creator David Milch apparently created the role with Ian McShane in mind, and McShane’s performance as the vicious yet vulnerable Al make him one of the most memorable and oft-quoted villains in history. For the 10th anniversary marathon weekend showing of Deadwood, which is also playing serially weeknights on HBO Signature, numerous blogs imitated Al Swearengen’s voice — not that of any other character. No one scene could possibly show you McShane’s range as Al. Ian’s subtle facial expressions, voice intonations, and glances alone demonstrate more ability and talent in this role than some actors display in their entire careers. The fan-made montage “Al Talks the Talk & Walks the Walk” displays just some of Al’s villainy and McShane’s talent (one of the “murders” shown is actually a mercy-killing of a severely afflicted and dying character, which Al had to be persuaded to assist in, since no one else — not even the camp’s doctor — was willing to help end the character’s intense, progressive, and incurable suffering).

Über-Warning: Language
(Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You)

If you’ve missed any of these brilliant actor’s performances as one of these top villains, you can rent them (or, even better, often view them for free, on HBO GO or with Amazon Prime), you’ll want to catch them when you’re in the mood for some fine acting, fantastic characters, and even some occasional dark, villainous humor.

And if your comments aren’t too villainous themselves, you can nominate your own top villains. If I’m not familiar with them, I’ll put them on my “To Be Watched” list.

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A Very Bad Day in The Life of a Writer

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I have had a very miserable day as a writer. The type that happens to all of us sometimes, but which rarely happens all at once. This is one of those days.

I awake to the news that one of my favorite, most respected actors in all the world has died: Peter O’Toole. I am heartbroken.

Legendary actor Peter O'Toole, as Lawrence of Arabia, in the David Lean film of the same name: the role that made O'Toole an international superstar.

Legendary actor Peter O’Toole, as Lawrence of Arabia, in the David Lean film of the same name: the role that made O’Toole an international superstar.

I have several books to revise, one to format, one of my author’s books to line-edit, and I don’t feel like doing any of it. I stay in bed, petting the cats, till after 10 a.m.

I remember that Peter O’Toole has died. I worshipped him. I’ve seen all his movies multiple times. Yes, even Phantoms. I am too depressed to work on anything. I stay in bed till 11.

Peter O'Toole announced his retirement from acting at age 80

Peter O’Toole announced his retirement from acting at age 80

I decide to do some kind of work, even if only to take my mind off Peter’s death. My computer, a Mac, is stuck on the little spinning beachball for 15 minutes.

I run the disk utility. Permissions repaired. Disk verified and found to be “OK.” Beachball continues spinning. For almost 20 minutes. I force-quit everything, restart computer, log in. Beachball immediately begins to spin.

I call Apple Support. After several attempts to make beachball stop, they suggest 2 possible problems: a corrupted OS, in which case I must download the OS again; or a failing external hard-drive (I have 2 where I back everything up, having had an internal computer hard-drive go bad in the past and lost much of my writing, my authors’ manuscripts, cover art which I’d already bought, etc.). Apple suggests I try downloading a new version of the OS first since the spinning beachball is system-wide and not user-specific. (At least I understand what he is saying, so I feel somewhat, if only slightly, computer literate.) We restart the computer in Safe Mode and the download begins.

Within minutes I get a text warning that I am at 75% of my data allowance for the month, which is 12G. The computer screen shows that 1 hour 59 minutes remain on the download. I am blue. I will have to upgrade my data plan, if only for this month, to avoid outrageous overage charges.

I recall that Peter O’Toole has died. I feel like crying. In an interview last year, he said that he dyed his hair brown for roles like Lion in Winter and Becket because he feared that, as a blonde, he would not be taken seriously as an actor. It shocked me when I heard him say it. It saddens me to remember it.

Peter O'Toole, with his hair dyed brown, and Katherine Hepburn in LION IN WINTER. Peter specifically asked Kate, as he called her, to play Queen Eleanor to his King Henry II. She agreed without reading the script.

Peter O’Toole, with his hair dyed brown, and Katherine Hepburn in LION IN WINTER. Peter specifically asked Kate, as he called her, to play Queen Eleanor to his King Henry II. She agreed without reading the script.

At 57 minutes remaining on the download, I get an alert that I am at 90% of my data usage. I send an email to my rep at Verizon asking if I should update now, just for this month, or wait till I get closer to my billing date. She is not in today, so no response. In Limbo.

Apple Support had suggested that I test the external hard-drives on my laptop to determine whether one of them is failing. I bring laptop to office and plug in 2 WD hard-drives. One registers. One does not.

I do not know which HD is which since both are same brand and model, just purchased at different times. I take a grab in the metaphorical dark and unplug one. The one that is showing on my desktop is still there. That is the one that works. I eject it, and using its Firewire, plug the unresponsive HD into the laptop. Nothing.

I take the USB cable from the non-responsive HD and plug it into the good HD, to determine if the problem is a connection one. Both the USB and the FireWire work on the responsive HD. Neither works on the other. Bad HD. Bad news.

The computer is restarting. That means I spent 57 minutes testing the HDs. What a wasted day I feel I’ve had.

Peter O’Toole has died. I’m too sad to cry.

Peter O'Toole after his final Oscar-nominated role in VENUS, his 8th nomination without a win

Peter O’Toole after his final Oscar-nominated role in VENUS, his 8th nomination without a win

I find the original WD box for the HD which is not responding. I call WD Support. One of the HDs is out of warranty (3 years) as of 31 July 2013, while the other is in warranty until 6 February 2014. I cross my fingers as I dig out the magnifiying glass to read the miniscule serial number. WD Support asks if I am sure that it is the HD that is not working. They make me read the serial number off the other. They ask me to plug only one into the computer at a time and read the serial numbers to them again. 36 minutes have passed because the Support Tech, though kind, does not speak any kind of English that I have ever heard, and I often have to request that he repeat things several times, very slowly, so that I can do what he requests.

WD asks to put me on hold. While on hold, I notice the time. 4:48 p.m. Nothing accomplished so far today.

While on hold, I think of Peter O’Toole’s movies that I have seen. I think of all Peter’s Oscar nominations, all of which he deserved to win, none of which he was awarded. I feel sad. For Peter. For the world.

Peter was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his career. At first, he refused to accept it, then relented. In his acceptance speech, however, he said he would still like to actually "win one of the bloody things" for his work.

Peter was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his career. At first, he refused to accept it, then relented. In his acceptance speech, however, he said he would still like to actually “win one of the bloody things” for his work.

WD Support comes back on the line. If I send the defective HD in, they will replace it. I ask what I am supposed to do to get all my sensitive data off. Like what? he says. Like my novels… Oh, you’re a writer? Not today. What? I’m trying to deal with computer issues, so I haven’t been able to do any writing. I’ll be sure to look up some of your books after we get off the phone. Thank you. Thank you so very much.

WD Support Tech sends email detailing how to get sensitive material, like my novels, my authors’ novels, my authors’ addresses / phone numbers / social security numbers, and RockWay Press’ tax information off the external HD. The email is nothing but a list of outside companies — none of which is even close to NM — to which I am supposed to send the defective-but-still-under-warranty HD. I ask again about the security of my sensitive information. Oh, we trust them impletely. You mean, “implicitly” or “completely”? What? My stress level rises.

I have to call back for an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) after I get all my sensitive data off. Or, I can pay a substantial fee, fill out a complex form stating that my data is too sensitive to send out, and they will trust me and send me a new one while allowing me to keep the old one. The fee is more than the cost of a new HD. I can’t even laugh. Now I have a headache.

After much fiddling with the power button and cords and other thingamajiggies, I manage to get the light on the defective HD to come on. It starts to vibrate and whir. These are good things. It is 5:44. I attempt to copy all the data from that bad HD to the good HD. The beachball starts spinning. Things are going downhill too fast for me to bear any more of the writer’s life today. I attempt to stop the copying. Nothing works.

Now my head is hurting most profoundly. My BF comes to my office to say that Sophie, the little cat who had all her teeth extracted, seems hungry: she is licking an empty plate. Since I am apparently the only one in the house who can open a can of cat food for her, I go to feed her, as I have every two hours for the past month since she had all her teeth drilled out (to save her life). I feel tired. Very tired.

Sophie, the baby of the family, who had to have all her teeth drilled out just before Thanksgiving, to save her life: her chronic stomatitis (an allergy to the bacteria on her own teeth) caused her palate, throat, and tongue to swell, get lesions, and be inflamed. She would've starved to death, in terrible pain, and we would have had to put her down to prevent her suffering further.

Sophie, the baby of the family, who had to have all her teeth drilled out just before Thanksgiving, to save her life: her chronic stomatitis (an allergy to the bacteria on her own teeth) caused her palate, throat, and tongue to swell, get lesions, and be inflamed. She would’ve starved to death, in terrible pain, and we would have had to put her down to prevent her suffering further.

I had hoped that the computer would be done transferring the information by the time I returned. It has not. I try another approach. I could throw everything in the defective HD into the trash. As long as I don’t empty the trash, the data will be there when I get the replacement HD: I could then drag it to its new location. I stop writing this blog to attempt it.

I forget to save the blog as a draft.

When I put the laptop down on the floor to attend to the computer and the defective external HD, Mr. Eli decides to walk across the laptop’s keyboard. The blog is lost.

Beachball spinning on big computer.

7:07 p.m. and I have had enough of being a writer for the day. I decide to redo blog to get some of my frustration out. Suddenly I get a notice that I am not connected to the Internet, which has been happening several times over the last few days.

I was supposed to call Verizon, again, about the Internet-disconnect issue, after I’d called Apple, because Verizon said if it continued to disconnect for no apparent reason, the MiFi unit might be defective and need to be replaced. If I call them now, I’ll be on the phone for at least another hour. If I wait till tomorrow, I’ll lose another day of writing. Rock and a hard place, indeed.

I decide to forcibly eject the bad HD, pull its plug, buy another tomorrow, which will take most of the day since the nearest and only Apple store in entire state is over an hour away, and there are no electronics stores or office supply stores any closer. I wonder again why I moved to this Wilderness.

Peter O’Toole has died.

One of the greatest actors of all time, Peter O'Toole, who passed away this weekend in London, after a lengthy illness, at the age of 81.

One of the greatest actors of all time, Peter O’Toole, who passed away this weekend in London, after a lengthy illness, at the age of 81.

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