Peter O’Toole, Atheist Actor and 8-Time Academy Award Nominee, Dead at 81

Yesterday, we lost Peter O’Toole, the actor who first came to fame portraying Lawrence of Arabia.

Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence (via Wikipedia)

While much can be said of his brilliant career, it’s worth noting that O’Toole was the rare actor who would not have thanked God if he had ever won an Oscar. In a 2007 profile in the New York Times, he said:

“I am a retired Christian,” he announced playfully, relaxing in his trailer at the end of a hard workday. His costume had been replaced by sweater, jacket, pants and an ascot.

Six decades after his altar-boy childhood and subsequent loss of faith, Mr. O’Toole said he looked elsewhere for life guidance. “I suggest that an education and reading and facts aren’t bad things on which to ponder a few notions,” he said. But he acknowledged a “very strong and very real” spiritual side to his nature.

“No one can take Jesus away from me,” he said, having just expressed an affection for the Sermon on the Mount (“Blessed are the meek,” etc.). “There’s no doubt there was a historical figure of tremendous importance, with enormous notions. Such as peace.”

He did what we all should do: Respect the Bible as a work of literature and take lessons from it as you would any other book. Nothing more than that.

In 2008, he talked about religion with Charlie Rose:

His best statement, however, may have been from one of his own characters. In 1972′s “The Ruling Class,” O’Toole played the paranoid schizophrenic character Jack Gurney, who says in the movie, “When did I realize I was God? Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself.”

(via FFRF)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • 3lemenope

    “Do not mock the gods!”

  • Brian T Hall

    He sounds like an agnostic to me… Theist or Atheist, I don’t know…

  • Gabriel

    It is my favorite movie of all time. I watch it at least once a year. I think it is the perfect movie. I’ve watched a lot of movies just because he was in them. Even if I didn’t think I would like the movie I wanted to see him.

  • Pseudonym

    Ultimately, he was what he was, and assuming that nobody here knew him personally, we’ll never know.

    It does seem presumptuous to describe it as a “loss of faith”, though. Different beliefs is not the same as complete disbelief.

  • CanuckAmuck

    Tonight I watched The Stunt Man, with Peter OToole playing another kind of within-his-own-small-universe god: a film director.

  • Mario Strada

    He was a giant. A few years ago I sat my peripatetic, ADD daughter down and I told her she had to watch Lawrence of Arabia with me. That if she didn’t watch it, she had no idea what a real movie was.
    And let’s face it, there are 2 great actors in that movie: The Desert and Peter O’Toole.
    I will never forget his eyes. In the movie they looked like twin oasis in the expanse of sand.

    You will be missed Mr. O’Toole. We are lucky that we exist in an era when actors are immortal.

  • David Evans

    “He did what we all should do: Respect the Bible as a work of literature and take lessons from it as you would any other book”

    I don’t feel I should respect “the Bible”. It’s a hodgepodge, with some fine things in it but an awful lot of nonsense, intolerance and cruelty. The KJV is now embedded in the English language, and I constantly find myself using its phrases, but so is Shakespeare whom I find much more worthy of respect.

  • $84687101

    That voice and accent is almost enough to make me believe in god.

    For very large values of almost.

    But seriously, that voice. And I did not know he was one of us. Seems to happen a lot with smart, educated people.

  • Wildcard

    This is sad. I loved him in The Creator.

  • joey_in_NC

    Fr. Z has noted that his last few movies are interesting choices…

    For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada (2012)
    Katherine of Alexandria (2013 – not out yet)
    Mary (announced…2014… made?)

  • Gerry Mooney

    So…? How did your daughter like the movie?

  • moosem

    Re: those eyes–I was fortunate enough to see the film (for the first time) on the big screen after remastering. I swear, you could dive into and swim in those eyes. The whole film blew me away.