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In memoriam: Peter O’Toole, actor, atheist, dead at 81

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Celebrated actor Peter O’Toole is dead at age 81. O’Toole, who first found stardom in David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia, died Saturday, peacefully in a hospital, according to a report filed by CNN on Sunday.

An out of the closet atheist, O’Toole described himself as “a retired Christian.” In a 2007 interview with The New York Times O’Toole said he prefers “an education and reading and facts” to faith. An altar boy in his youth, O’Toole lost his faith as a teenager, although he always expressed positive sentiments regarding the life of Jesus Christ, and in particular the Sermon on the Mount.

As a youth O’Toole attended a Catholic school where the nuns beat him to correct his left-handedness.

Variety notes O’Toole “was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of his generation.”

O'Toole's first major film success came in the title role of T.E. Lawrence in "Lawrence of Arabia" in 1962. His role in the iconic film earned him the first of eight Academy Award nominations. Indeed, O’Toole has the distinction of being the most nominated actor never to win a competitive Oscar. However, in 2003 he was awarded an honorary Oscar by actress Meryl Streep.

With bold blue eyes and a deep smooth voice, O’Toole was known in his youth for his blond hair and striking good looks. A libertine, O’Toole was also known as a hard-drinking Hollywood hellraiser: “We heralded the ’60s,” he once said. “Me, [Richard] Burton, Richard Harris; we did in public what everyone else did in private then, and does for show now. We drank in public, we knew about pot.”

In 1972, O’Toole played a delusional character who believed he was Jesus in the film “The Ruling Class.” During the film, O’Toole’s character says, “When did I realize I was God? Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself.”

O’Toole is survived by his two daughters, Pat and Kate O’Toole, from his marriage to actress Siân Phillips, and his son, Lorcan O’Toole, by Karen Brown.

For more news, information and humor relevant to atheists, freethinkers, and secular humanists, check out Progressive Secular Humanist Examiner on Facebook.

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