I don't mean people like Leonardo DiCaprio, who are still active and will almost certainly find a role that earns them an Academy Award. (The National Board of Review thinks he's already found one; it named him best supporting actor for playing the psychotic slave owner in "Django Unchained.") I mean folks like this quintet, listed in reverse order according to how badly they were ripped off:
5) Edward G. Robinson -- He gave a ferocious performance in the first memorable gangster movie of the sound era, "Little Caesar," in 1931. Over the next four decades he played men who were savage or sympathetic, shrewd or stupid, but always complex. And the Academy never saw fit to give him a nomination of any kind, lead or supporting. His wife accepted a posthumous honorary award for him in 1973.
4) Cary Grant -- Like John Wayne, he was accused of playing a version of himself in film after film, whoever the character might be. Even if that had been true (and it wasn't), it took skill to portray murderers and dupes and playboys and thieves as well as he did. He was nominated twice in the 1940s, but his best work (including two collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock) earned nothing. At least he was alive to accept his honorary prize.
3) Kirk Douglas -- He was nominated three times, one of them for his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in "Lust for Life." That title embodied the quality he brought to a remarkably diverse series of heroes and villains (and, once in a while, weaklings and fools). And he wasn't afraid to star in and produce movies with controversial subjects ("Paths of Glory") or collaborators ("Spartacus," written by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo). Another honorary nominee.
2) Richard Burton -- From 1964 through 1966, he earned three of his seven career nominations for "Becket," "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I can't think of another actor who has given three stronger, more diverse interpretations back to back than Burton. He never got an honorary statuette, because he died at 58; I think Academy voters expected him to turn in more terrific performances someday.
1) Peter O'Toole -- The versatile Irishman remains the all-time record-holder for acting futility: He has been nominated eight times, always in leading roles. (He first refused an honorary award in 2002, then accepted it.) O'Toole must have the unluckiest timing among nominees, too: His dazzling work in "Lawrence of Arabia" lost to Gregory Peck's iconic Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," and his jaw-dropping performance in "The Ruling Class" was eclipsed by Marlon Brando's mumblings in "The Godfather." The 80-year-old O'Toole isn't dead yet, but his career has dwindled down to cameos in religious dramas and narration for the likes of the upcoming "Highway to Hell." This is like using an actual Oscar as a toilet paper holder.