President to attend Peter O’Toole London memorial

President Michael D Higgins ‘honoured’ to be asked to speak at actor’s service

President Michael D Higgins will join stars of stage and screen in London tomorrow to bid farewell to actor Peter O'Toole, who died on December 14th.

The President, who became friends with the actor after the two met in a pub in Clifden, in the late 1960s, will join several hundred people at the Old Vic theatre for a memorial service with a difference.

O'Toole "began and ended at the Old Vic", his daughter Kate told The Irish Times: "It was where he took his final curtain in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell – arguably one of the greatest comic performances of the century."

The centrepiece of the service will be the announcement by Stephen Fry of the Peter O'Toole Prize, which will pay the wages of two young actors every year at the Bristol Old Vic.


O'Toole himself benefited from the generosity of the theatre's manager, Nat Brenner, who took a cut to his wages after he was told there was "no money left" to hire the actor.

“There was talk about putting up a statue to him in Bristol, because that is where it all began for him,” said Ms O’Toole, “but I thought, no. He would have been the first person to climb on top of it.”

The service, which will be hosted by writer and comedian Barry Cryer, will be "a very personal" celebration of his life and work, she said, inspired "by the spirit of the man himself: a bit irreverent".

Mr Higgins “would be flying the Irish flag”, Ms O’Toole said, adding that he and her father had “become very close friends” when they met during one of the actor’s holidays at his Clifden home.

Last night, the President said he was “honoured” to be asked to speak at the service, saying that he would miss the “warm humour and generous friendship” of a man he had been “privileged to know as a friend since 1969. I spent part of 1979 in Clifden, where we met almost daily, and all of us who knew him in the west will miss him,” said Mr Higgins, adding that his friend “brought an extraordinary standard” to bear during a lifetime’s acting career.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times