And the Oscar didn’t go to… Peter O’Toole



Acclaimed Irish actor Peter O’Toole never won a competitive Oscar.

The Academy themselves knew that it would be a huge oversight if they didn’t honour him in some way before his passing. So in January 2003, they announced he was to receive the prestigious Honorary Oscar.

But O’Toole refused. In a handwritten letter he said he was ‘enchanted’ by the gesture but announced ‘I am still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright’. He changed his mind a few weeks later and accepted the award from Meryl Streep on Oscar night.

But he nearly did win the ‘bugger outright’. Four years after refusing the Oscar, he was nominated one last time. Eight times in total Peter O’Toole was nominated. And all in the Best Actor category.

Below is the list of the performances he was nominated for, and the men who beat him for the Oscar each time.


Nominated as T.E Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia.

Beaten by Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.

This was O’Toole’s most iconic role, in what was his first starring role. On Oscar night ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ won seven awards – losing out in the Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Omar Sharif) and Best Actor categories. Statistically O’Toole was unlucky, but he was up against Gregory Peck in a stunning adaptation of Harper Lee’s ,magnificent novel.  Peck himself had been a loser on Oscar night four times previously. Peck’s performance would be voted, 41 years later, as No. 1 in the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains’.


Nominated as King Henry II in Becket.

Beaten by Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. 

O’Toole only had to wait two years before he was up for the award again. But his co-star, Richard Burton, was also nominated in the Best Actor category this night, for his performance as the Archbishop of Canterbury. The two duelling co-stars no doubt took votes from each other, allowing Rex Harrison to win for his musical performance.


Nominated as ‘King Henry II’ in The Lion in Winter. 

Beaten by Cliff Robertson as Charlie Gordon in Charly. 

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. O’Toole’s next nomination was for playing the same character in his previous nomination, that of King Henry II of England. This time he was opposite Katharine Hepburn (who took home the award on Oscar night). But voters were leaning more sympathetically to Cliff Robertson’s performance as an intellectually disabled bakery worker who undergoes experimental surgery.


Nominated as Arthur Chipping in Goodbye, Mr Chips.

Beaten by John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. 

John Wayne was a stalwart of cinema by the time the 1960s were ending. Already nominated two previous times, the Academy couldn’t resist honouring the American icon in the Western genre he made his own. Wayne later said if he had know wearing an eye-patch would give him an Oscar he would have done so decades earlier.


Nominated as Jack Gurney in The Ruling Class. 

Beaten by Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather. 

Many could consider O’Toole’s performance in The Ruling Class an example of his often outrageous, overzealous acting.   He masterfully plays a man who inherits the title of 14th Earl of Gurney and believes he is god. But on Oscar night he was up against Marlon Brando’s iconic turn as Don Corleone in The Godfather. Brando’s performance was clearly more suited to the Supporting Actor Category, but the film already had three cast members nominated in that category.


Nominated as Eli Cross in The Stunt Man. 

Beaten by Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.

One of the lesser known films O’Toole was nominated for, but one of his best roles, as a megalomaniac film director. His showy performance was up against far more serious work (John Hurt in The Elephant Man), and the winner Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull. Voters were clearly impressed with DeNiro’s physical transformation for the role (whereas John Hurt was hidden behind prosthetics for his performance).


Nominated as Alan Swann in My Favourite Year. 

Beaten by Ben Kingsley as Gandhi in Gandhi. 

If you want to appreciate the comic timing of Peter O’Toole, then seek out My Favourite Year. His washed up swashbuckling 1940s film star has all the charm and swagger that O’Toole possessed in real life. However, it was a British film that nearly swept all before it – Gandhi. Ben Kingsley defeated O’Toole in his role of a lifetime as the title character.


Nominated as Maurice in Venus.

Beaten by Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. 

A 24-year gap between nominations.  An Honorary Oscar and seven losing nominations under his belt. Yet O’Toole returned for one last hurrah on Oscar night under the guise of a quirky, moving performance as an elderly actor infatuated by his friend’s great-niece. But everyone knew O’Toole wouldn’t win. Forest Whitaker had won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and film critic awards before Oscar night came around.

By now, O’Toole’s losing streak was legendary and the punchline of many jokes. When host Ellen DeGeneres singled out O’Toole in the audience, she said: ‘you know what they say Peter, third time’s a charm.’ And all O’Toole could do was laugh.

Rhett Bartlett is a movie expert for The New Daily and ABC Radio.

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