The star of David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia who earned eight Oscar nominations has died at Wellington hospital in London following a long illness. He was 81.

O’Toole was reportedly born in Ireland – there is some dispute over this and it is said his birthplace may in fact be Leeds – and despite his global fame and London residency remained very much a son of the country.

The Irish president Michael Higgins, a personal friend for several decades, led a list of tributes and called O’Toole “one of the giants of film and theatre.”

O’Toole served two years in the Navy before attending the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art in the early 1950s. He cut his teeth with a series of major roles in regional theatre for several years and eventually landed his cinematic breakthrough as TE Lawrence in Lean’s 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia, which earned him one of eight Academy Award nominations.

The actor accepted an honorary Oscar in 2003 after he had at first refused the accolade. His film career highlights included The Lion In Winter, Becket, Goodbye, Mr Chips and The Stunt Man. He earned his final Oscar nomination for the 2006 drama Venus.

O’Toole won the Golden Globe four times – for The Lion In Winter, Goodbye, Mr Chips and Becket, which also delivered a trophy for most promising newcomer – and collected a single BAFTA Award for Lawrence Of Arabia.

Despite a public statement last year that he was retiring from acting, O’Toole is understood to have completed shooting on the historical biopic Katherine Of Alexandria.

He enjoyed stage immortality for his 1990s lead role in Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell. In earlier life, O’Toole enjoyed a reputation as a hard drinker and was closed friends with Richard Burton and Richard Harris. He beat stomach cancer in the 1970s.

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