WAS anyone else surprised by the same bit of theatrical news that caught me out this week?
I’d never imagined that an actor with an immense record on stage and screen would, as he himself put it, “chuck in the towel.”
But that’s what Peter O’Toole, who turns 80 in just a few weeks’ time, has done saying he no longer has the heart for it.
And that, right there, is what brought a lump to my throat.
“It is my belief that one should decide for oneself when it is time to end one’s stay,” he said.
“So I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.”
Theatrical to the end but a line that nonetheless had me hunting the memory box and it only took a light rustle before a few images fell out, bright as the star O’Toole undoubtedly is.
He is, after all, one of those actors who at his best is mesmerising, who can light up a screen or a stage like few others. But one who can just as easily distract.
Over the years, I’ve seen him at work, both on stage and off.
It’s 30 years since I joined the throng at the Grand Theatre in Leeds to do what every other reporter seemed intent on doing. Asking what on earth was going on.
The London critics hated the Old Vic’s version of Macbeth with O’Toole in the title role. But audiences flocked to see a show which despite being pilloried had become a smash hit.
By the time it arrived in Leeds and other regional cities, it was breaking box office records.
The actor himself had little to say on the subject. Finding him in the scrum of reporters was one thing, getting him to talk about Harry Lauder, as he is said to have called the play, was quite another.
As an ex-Leeds lad, he’d lived there for 10 years and tried his hand at journalism before heading for the stage, he was more interested in what was going on in the city.
Two years later, I saw him again, this time on stage in Manchester playing Tanner in Shaw’s Man and Superman.
He was as he had been off-stage, full of nervous energy and impossible to ignore with the kind of presence few other actors have.
If he puts a 10th of that into the memoirs he now says he is going to concentrate on, then his words will seer the paper.
But it is sad nonetheless to hear him say that he has lost heart in the business to which he has brought so much light. May that flame be rekindled one of these days.