Sid Caesar is dead at 91 and the curtain has softly closed on a comedy giant. Although giant is perhaps not a large enough term to refer to a legendary figure who, through his live comedy programs, seemed to have invented the forerunner to the TV sitcom. The comic, and comedic genius, had been ill for a year before his death on Wednesday February 12. Stars and other comic icons have come forward to speak of their sorrow at the trial blazer’s death and also to talk of his ability to connect with audiences in a way that made them “roar with laughter.”
I was very saddened to read this little bit of information on the net. Still, one can perhaps hope that he is premature in his assertion that he is retiring from acting.
The man who shot to international stardom in Lawrence of Arabia is the same man who, after battling illnesses that would have brought most of us to our collective knees, did two films back to back while still recovering, The Stuntman and My Favorite Year, oh and taking time out to do a mini-series in between.
And just when I thought that Peter would be relegated to those supporting smaller roles that is the perpetual home of older stars, he did Venus. Venus, a complete British Comedy/Drama was filled with ‘old’ thespians and it was a brilliant film. It gave Mr O’Toole his eighth Academy Award nomination (he lost to Forest Whitaker) making this his eighth nomination with no win.
He has been awarded the ‘life-time’ achievement award, which he initially declined until his children told him off for it. I can only think that the ‘hallowed’ Academy thought that Peter was going to die, that is generally when they finally unbend enough to award someone who has been overlooked for years.
That O’Toole is beyond talented is obvious. The strength of his performances are astonishing. He has never, to my knowledge, given a lacklustre performance. When I think of his voice, that wonderfully mellifluous voice that I would kill to have, I get goose bumps. His voice and his way of speaking his lines has developed into a sort of musical cadence as he aged. It is almost like a signature, one that allows you to immediately know without looking that it is O’Toole.
The first thing I saw him in was not Lawrence of Arabia. I first saw him in The Lion in Winter. He and the powerful Katharine Hepburn striking sparks off each other. I then saw him in Beckett with Richard Burton. Brilliance. I did not watch Lawrence of Arabia until late one night on television. *On a side note, I read once that Peter had been hired on the strength of a stage performance he had been seen in by the producers, in the interim between being hired and turning up for costume fittings, they were horrified to see he’d had a nose job.*
But I did not fall in love with Peter O’Toole as an actor until I saw him in a small comedy directed by Richard Benjamin, My Favorite Year. Playing an ageing movie star who agrees to do a mainstream comedy variety show to pay his tax bill. The star is a raging alcoholic and does not realize that the show will be broadcast live. The pathos. comedy, sadness and courage that O’Toole gave his character made this film an unforgettable experience and shot the film to the lead of my favourites. Based on real events (I think the star in question was Errol Flynn and the show was Sid Caesar‘s) the ending never fails to give me a lump in my throat.
Peter O’Toole has suffered illness and a battle with the bottle his entire career. The effects of both these have left him lean and aged, like a worn out whippet, but the power is still there. The ability to rise above his age and illness and still give the kind of performance that shines. Watch Venus, at 73 he still has the ability to tug the heartstrings and make us chuckle, almost at the same time.
So Peter O’Toole has finally had enough. The acting world should put on black armbands and fly their flags at half-mast.
He may be “down but not out” but let’s just hope that maybe he can be enticed to act again for the right role. I would still like to see him earn his Oscar properly, as I am sure he would, and not just have the conciliatory one the Academy farmed out to him.