I was 16 years old when I met Peter O’Toole. It was one of those damp summer mornings in London, and I had just finished my morning voice class at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and was in need of a quiet place to read. I climbed up the stairs of the main building and tucked into the library. Years later, the RADA would move the library to a new building with tons of space, but before then, the library was simply a series of rooms with walls and walls of books and a few tables.
I sat down at a table and pulled out my script to work on. I was so overwhelmed and stressed in my program, so worried that I wasn’t cut out for theatre. In a panic, I tossed everything back into my bag and charged out the door and towards the staircase and ran smack-dab into, you guessed it, Peter O’Toole.
He growled at me. Literally. I apologized for running into him, but his annoyance was not shifting. He demanded to know my name and when I told him, he bellowed, inches from my face, “DRESDEN! Why must you be in a hurry?!” I blinked at him. I had no idea what to say. He growled again waiting for a response. When I had none he sighed and pushed past me towards the library leaving a trail of swear words punctuating the air. I made it all the way to the bottom of the stairs before I realized what had just happened. I had just had a brush with greatness. And completely missed an opportunity.
Peter O’Toole passed away yesterday on December 14th at the age of 81.
Last year, Peter announced he was going to retire from acting. In a press release (which he wrote himself), he said:
“It’s time for me to chuck in the sponge. To retire from films and stage. The heart for it has gone out of me: it won’t come back. My professional acting life, stage and screen, has brought me public support, emotional fulfilment and material comfort. It has brought me together with fine people, good companions with whom I’ve shared the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits. However, it’s my belief that one should decide for oneself when it’s time to end one’s stay. So I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.”
When people think of Peter O’Toole, they often think of his amazing performances in Lawrence of Arabia and The Tudors or his public drinking, but I think about that random summer morning when I could have said more. He was an actor’s actor, and he will be missed by many.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
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