Peter O'Toole, the iconic Oscar-nominated star of the epic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, passed away last night at the age of 81 after battling a long illness.

The actor decided last year that "it is time for me to chuck in the sponge," as he put it, ending his 50-year career that included a wide range of films from hits like ‘Ratatouille’, ‘The Last Emperor’, and ‘Troy’, to flops ‘Supergirl’.  Possibly O’Toole’s most controversial performance came in 1979 as the syphilis-ridden Emperor Tiberius in the sexually explicit film ‘Caligula’ with Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren.

O’Toole was no stranger to illness, dealing with stomach issues in the 1970s believed to have been brought on by his drinking, but later revealed to be stomach cancer.  Shortly thereafter O’Toole was misdiagnosed with blood cancer, with both illnesses putting a hold on his career for some time.  Once considered a heart-throb leading man, his battle with cancer and alcoholism damaged O’Toole’s looks, leading him to switch to more supporting roles like the hotel owner in the supernatural comedy ‘High Spirits’ and the King’s royal advisor in the John Goodman film ‘King Ralph’.  But going from epics to comedies wasn’t a problem for the Oscar-nominated actor, telling The Times,

I'm a professional and I'll do anything – a poetry reading, television, cinema, anything that allows me to act.

O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar a record-setting eight times, being only one of four actors to be nominated twice for the same character in two films.  Hoping to finally win an Oscar in a competitive category, O’Toole respectfully declined the Academy’s offer of an honorary Oscar until 2003 when he was presented his golden statue by Meryl Streep, telling the audience,

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot. I have my very own Oscar with me now to be with me until death us do part.

via People