O’Toole graciously accepted the honorary award, quipping, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot,” as he clutched his Oscar statuette.
He had nearly turned down the award, sending a letter asking that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hold off on the honorary Oscar until he turned 80.
Hoping another Oscar-worthy role would come his way, O’Toole wrote: “I am still in the game and might win the bugger outright.”
The last chance came in, for “Venus,” in which he played a lecherous old actor consigned to roles as feeble-minded royals or aged men on their death beds. By failing again to win, he broke the tie for futility which had been shared with Richard Burton, his old drinking buddy.
O’Toole divorced Welsh actress Sian Phillips in 1979, after 19 years of marriage. The couple had two daughters, Kate and Pat.
A brief relationship with American model Karen Somerville led to the birth of his son Lorcan in 1983, and a change of lifestyle for O’Toole.
After a long custody battle, a U.S. judge ruled Somerville should have her son during school vacations, and O’Toole would have custody during the school year.
“The pirate ship has berthed,” he declared, happily taking on the responsibilities of fatherhood. He learned to coach schoolboy cricket and, when he was in a play, the curtain time was moved back to allow him part of the evenings at home with his son.
O’Toole’s death was announced by agent Steve Kenis, who said the actor had been ill for some time.
His daughter Kate said the family had been overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy.
“In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished,” she said in the statement.
AP writer Raphael Satter contributed to this report.