R.I. P. Peter O’Toole


I once cracked a joke to Peter O’Toole — and he laughed!

It was when he was promoting the first volume of his autobiography, Loitering with Intent in 1992. I worked at a book store where he was doing a signing. I won’t tell you what the joke was, but it involved a urinal.

I haven’t got around to putting him in my Hall of Hams yet — next birthday. Much will be made today of his prestige stuff, from Lawrence of Arabia and Becket to Venus. But when I think of O’Toole I invariably think first of how funny he was. When we were in high school, in the early days of home video, there were two Peter O’Toole movies my buddies and I watched probably a dozen times, both containing amazing bravura comic turns by O’Toole. In The Stunt Man (1980) he plays Eli Cross, an imperious, crazy, possibly homicidal movie director who happens to get his talons on a fugitive criminal (Steve Railsback, best known as Charles Manson in Helter Skelter). O’Toole’s Cross is the movie director as God…with the power of life and death, merciless in his pushing of the Stunt Man to the limit…but somehow giving him some kind of profound experience he can only be grateful for in the end. Two years after The Stunt Man, O’Toole was the Errol Flynn-inspired drunken English ham Alan Swann in the hilarious early TV comedy My Favorite Year with Mark Linn-Baker. Then there’s the crazy aristocrat who thinks he’s Christ in The Ruling Class (1972), and the swinging young sex maniac in Woody Allen’s What’s New Pussycat? (1965).

On that same book tour I mentioned above I recall O’Toole appearing on one of the late night talk shows and the host asked him “Any regrets?” and he replied “I wouldn’t change a sausage.” I thought that phrase was hysterical and I’ve held on to it ever since. Was it meant to be interpreted literally? Vulgarly? Both? Neither? “I wouldn’t change a sausage.” I hope it goes on his tombstone.

He was, as friend Jeff Lewonczyk reminds me “The Finest Man Who Ever Breathed”

R.I.P. Peter O’Toole (1932-2013).

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