There have been many tributes and remembrances circulating about Peter O'Toole since the actor passed away December 14, 2013. For me, a life-long fan, it comes as a bittersweet reminder of my own Father's passing one year prior (fourteen days apart). Bitter because losing a loved one is never an easy thing; sweet because it was my Father's own enthusiasm for O'Toole that helped turn me on to film in the first place. I still remember him urging us to watch Lawrence of Arabia together in our family living room. I can vividly recall the old double VHS tape box and how foreboding the thought of enduring a nearly four-hour desert snooze-fest was to my delicate 8-year-old psyche. Little did I know at the time, watching Lawrence on VHS (in pan and scan no less) was not the proper way to view such a masterwork anyway. I never did get further than the first thirty minutes. My Father was usually already asleep by that point, so it was easy to make a clean escape. I suppose it gives me a little comfort knowing now that had we ever attempted a full screening of David Lean's historical epic (the epic by which all epics are judged), he would have likely only been awake for maybe 2/3 of it. I held off watching the film on my own for many years. Partly because of those early memories of impending boredom. Naturally when I finally did return to it sometime in my early twenties, it became something akin to a quasi-religious experience. When I showed the newly released and fully restored Blu-ray to some friends last November (the closest one can get to experiencing the film as it was originally intended without having to forsake your pajama bottoms) in my own living room, it was truly a night to remember. Sadly, my Father passed away not soon after that, so I never got to share the same experience with him. I'm sure it would have been like coming full circle; him sitting in my living room and me imposing the viewing on him this time. The question remains would I have gotten up to leave the room or not once the obligatory snoring began? I'd like to think that (like T. E. Lawrence) I would have endured, but I know myself a little better than that.
8½ in What's New Pussycat?, and of course the legendary occasion O'Toole arrived on David Letterman's stage riding a camel, replete with his obligatory cigarette holder and alcoholic beverage (for the camel); the best "stupid pet trick" of all-time (YouTube it, thank me later).
If it weren't for both my parents and their own unique appreciation for this man's work and genius, I'm certain I would not have grown into the impassioned appreciator for the arts that I am today. I once saw an interview with O'Toole, where he said that acting is simply an expression of the poetry of words; or something to that effect. I suppose that's true to a large extent. It's also the expression of the human condition. It's what separates great actors from mere movie stars. Anyone can be a movie star, all you need is a good chin (look at Ben Affleck). Being able to express what it means to truly be alive, in all its pain and glory, is the mark of a true artist. It's something Peter O'Toole was able to do with unflinching honesty and class. I'm not about to assume that it was effortless for someone like him, but I am reasonably sure that it was something he was born to do.