updated 07/20/2012 AT 2:40 PM ET
•originally published 12/15/2013 AT 1:35 PM ET
[brightcove: 2939857930001]Peter O’Toole, who over a 50-year-career delivered majestic performances as unforgettable characters both noble and notorious, died Saturday at the Wellington Hospital in London following a long illness, his agent Steve Kenis said, according to various reports. He was 81.
In a stunning announcement in July 2012, the acclaimed actor said he was retiring from the arena that made him a household name going back to 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia. “It is time for me to chuck in the sponge,” is how he put it as he bid his profession “a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.”
“He was six years old, O’Toole recalls, when he fell in love with the theater,” read his official biography when he played World War I British hero T.E. Lawrence for director David Lean.
Fame, and the first of eight Oscar nominations, came immediately, as did a decade of other large roles – among them, King Henry II in both Becket, with Richard Burton, and The Lion in Winter, with Katharine Hepburn – and a reputation for carousing. “I was, after all, the son of an Irish bookmaker,” O’Toole told The New York Times, with a smile, in 1983.
His career and his personal state of health both took significant downturns in the 1970s. His father died, his 20-year marriage to the revered Welsh actress Sian Philips ended, and, after surgery for a long-term stomach ailment, doctors misdiagnosed him with blood cancer.