Lawrence of Arabia star Peter O'Toole has died, aged 81.

The legendary actor passed away at the Wellington Hospital in London on Saturday (December 14) following a long illness, his agent Steve Kenis confirmed.

In a statement his daughter Kate O'Toole said: "His family are very appreciative and completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us, during this unhappy time. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts.

"In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished. We will be happy to speak to you all then but in the meantime if you could give Peter O'Toole the respect he deserves and allow us to grieve privately we'd appreciate it. Thank you all again for your beautiful tributes - keep them coming."

Born in County Galway, Ireland, O'Toole shot to stardom 50 years ago, in the title role in David Lean's sweeping epic Lawrence of Arabia, which earned seven Oscars, including best picture and director.

An acclaimed Shakespearean actor, O'Toole received his first best actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of British adventurer T.E. Lawrence. Seven more nominations followed for his performances in Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man and My Favourite Year, but the golden statuette eluded him every time..

"If you fail the first time, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again," O'Toole said in a statement on nominations day. In recognition of his contribution to cinema the academy finally awarded him an honorary Oscar in 2003.

The flamboyant star announced his retirement last year on the eve of his 80th birthday.

Speaking in a statement at the time, he said: "My professional acting life, stage and screen, has brought me public support, emotional fulfilment and material comfort. It has brought me together with fine people, good companions with whom I've shared the inevitable lot of all actors - flops and hits.

"However, it's my belief that one should decide for oneself when it is time to end one's stay. So I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell."

Driven by his passion for his craft, the indomitable O'Toole nevertheless returned to acting earlier this year to appear in Katherine of Alexandria, playing palace orator Cornelius Gallus.

He is survived by his three children, Pat, Kate and Lorcan O'Toole. He was married to actress Siân Phillips for 20 years until 1979.