Richard Burton


Richard Burton
Richard Burton

In Cleopatra (1963)
Born Richard Walter Jenkins
10 November 1925(1925-11-10)
Pontrhydyfen, Wales
Died 5 August 1984(1984-08-05) (aged 58)
Céligny, Switzerland
Cause of death Cerebral haemorrhage
Nationality Welsh
Occupation Actor
Years active 1944–84
Spouse Sybil Williams (1949–63; divorced)
Elizabeth Taylor (1964–74, 1975–76; divorced)
Suzy Hunt (1976–82; divorced)
Sally Hay (1983–84; his death)
Children Kate Burton
Jessica Burton
Liza Todd Burton
Maria Burton

Richard Burton, CBE (10 November 1925 – 5 August 1984) was a Welsh actor.[1] He was nominated seven times for an Academy Award, six of which were for Best Actor in a Leading Role (without ever winning), and was a recipient of BAFTA, Golden Globe and Tony Awards for Best Actor. Although never trained as an actor, Burton was, at one time, the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. He remains closely associated in the public consciousness with his second wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor; the couple's turbulent relationship was rarely out of the news.[2]

Contents

Childhood and education

Richard Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins in the village of Pontrhydyfen, Neath Port Talbot, Wales. He grew up in a working class, Welsh-speaking household, the twelfth of thirteen children.[3] His father, Richard Walter Jenkins, was a short, robust coal miner, a "twelve-pints-a-day man" who sometimes went off on drinking and gambling sprees for weeks. Burton later claimed, by family telling, that "He looked very much like me...That is, he was pockmarked, devious, and smiled a great deal when he was in trouble. He was, also, a man of extraordinary eloquence, tremendous passion, great violence."[4]:23

Burton was less than two years old in 1927 when his mother, Edith Maude (née Thomas), died at the age of 43[5]:2 after giving birth to her 13th child.[6] His sister Cecilia and her husband Elfed took him into their Presbyterian mining family in nearby Port Talbot (an English-speaking steel town).[3][7] Burton said later that his sister became "more mother to me than any mother could have ever been... I was immensely proud of her... she felt all tragedies except her own". Burton's father would occasionally visit the homes of his grown daughters but was otherwise absent.[8]:7, 10 Also important in young Burton's life was Ifor (Ivor), the brother 19 years his senior. A miner and rugby player, Ifor "ruled the household with the proverbial firm hand".[5]:7

Burton showed a talent for English and Welsh literature at grammar school, and demonstrated an excellent memory, though his consuming interest was sports – rugby (in fact famous Welsh centre Bleddyn Williams said in his autobiography that Burton could have gone far as a player[9]), cricket, and table tennis[10] He later said, "I would rather have played for Wales at Cardiff Arms Park than Hamlet at the Old Vic."[8]:17 He earned pocket money by running messages, hauling horse manure, and delivering newspapers. He started to smoke at the age of eight and drink regularly at twelve.[4]:25–26 Inspired by his schoolmaster, Philip H. Burton, he excelled in school productions, his first being The Apple Cart.[4]:29 Philip could not legally adopt Burton because their age difference was one year short of the minimum twenty years required.[Did he want to? clarification needed][11]:47 Burton early on displayed an excellent speaking and singing voice and won an Eisteddfod prize as a boy soprano.[4]:27

Burton left school at sixteen for full-time work. He worked for the local wartime Co-operative committee, handing out supplies in exchange for coupons, but then considered other professions for his future, including boxing, religion and singing.[4]:27 When Burton joined the Port Talbot Squadron of the Air Training Corps as a cadet, he re-encountered Philip Burton, his former teacher, who was the commander. Richard also joined a youth drama group led by Leo Lloyd, a steel worker and avid amateur thespian, who taught him the fundamentals of acting.

Philip Burton, recognising Richard's talent, then adopted him as his ward and Richard returned to school, and, being older than most of the boys, he was very attractive to some of the girls.[4]:30–31 Philip Burton later said, "Richard was my son to all intents and purposes. I was committed to him."[4]:34 Philip Burton tutored his charge intensely in school subjects and also worked at developing the youth's acting voice, including outdoor voice drills which improved his projection.[8]:38

In 1943, at the age of eighteen, Richard Burton (who had now taken his teacher's surname but would not change it by deed poll for several years[5]:41), was allowed into Exeter College, Oxford for a special term of six months study, made possible because he was an air force cadet obligated to later military service. He subsequently did serve in the RAF (1944–1947) as a navigator. Burton's eyesight was too poor for him to be considered pilot material.[10]

Early acting career

In the 1940s and early 1950s Burton worked on stage and in cinema in the United Kingdom. Before his war service with the Royal Air Force, he starred as Professor Higgins in a YMCA production of Pygmalion. He earned his first professional acting fees doing radio parts for the BBC.[4]:35 He had made his professional acting debut in Liverpool and London, appearing in Druid's Rest, a play by Emlyn Williams (who also became a guru), but his career was interrupted by conscription in 1944.[8]:44 Early on as an actor, he developed the habit of toting around a book-bag filled with novels, dictionaries, a complete Shakespeare, and books of quotations, history, and biography, and enjoyed solving crossword puzzles. Burton could, given any line from Shakespeare's works, recite from memory the next several minutes of lines.[12] His Welsh love of language was paramount, as he famously stated years later, with a tearful Elizabeth Taylor at his side, "The only thing in life is language. Not love. Not anything else."[8]:43

In 1947, after his discharge from the RAF, Burton went to London to seek his fortune. He immediately signed up with a theatrical agency to make himself available for casting calls.[4]:45 His first film was The Last Days of Dolwyn, set in a Welsh village about to be drowned to provide a reservoir. His reviews praised him for his "acting fire, manly bearing, and good looks."[4]:48

Burton met his future wife, the young actress Sybil Williams, on the set, and they married in February 1949. They had two daughters, and divorced in 1963 after Burton's widely reported affair with Elizabeth Taylor. In the years of his marriage to Sybil, Burton appeared in the West End in a highly successful production of The Lady's Not for Burning, alongside Sir John Gielgud and Claire Bloom, in both the London and NewYork productions. He had small parts in various British films: Now Barabbas Was A Robber; Waterfront (1950) with Robert Newton; The Woman with No Name (1951); and a bigger part as a smuggler in Green Grow the Rushes, a B-movie.[8]:70–71

Reviewers took notice of Burton: "He has all the qualifications of a leading man that the British film industry so badly needs at this juncture: youth, good looks, a photogenic face, obviously alert intelligence, and a trick of getting the maximum of attention with a minimum of fuss."[4]:51 In the 1951 season at Stratford, he gave a critically acclaimed performance and achieved stardom as Prince Hal in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 opposite Anthony Quayle's Falstaff. Philip Burton arrived at Stratford to help coach his former charge, and he noted in his memoir that Quayle and Richard Burton had their differences about the interpretation of the Prince Hal role. Richard Burton was already demonstrating the same independence and competitiveness as an actor that he displayed off-stage in drinking, sport, or story-telling.[8]:73

Kenneth Tynan said of Burton's performance, "His playing of Prince Hal turned interested speculation to awe almost as soon as he started to speak; in the first intermission local critics stood agape in the lobbies."[4]:51 Suddenly, Richard Burton had fulfilled his guardian's wildest hopes and was admitted to the post-War British acting circle which included Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, Hugh Griffith and Paul Scofield. He even met Humphrey Bogart, a fellow hard drinker, who sang his praises back in Hollywood.[4]:56 Lauren Bacall recalled, "Bogie loved him. We all did. You had no alternative." Burton bought the first of many cars and celebrated by increasing his drinking.[8]:73–74 The following year, Burton signed a five-year contract with Alexander Korda at £100 a week, launching his Hollywood career.

Hollywood and later career

Richard Burton in the film Cleopatra (1963)

In 1952, Burton successfully made the transition to a Hollywood star; on the recommendation of Daphne du Maurier, he was given the leading role in My Cousin Rachel opposite Olivia de Havilland.[4]:59 Burton arrived on the Hollywood scene at a time when the studios were struggling. Television's rise was drawing away viewers and the studios looked to new stars and new film technology to staunch the bleeding. 20th Century Fox negotiated with Korda to borrow him for this film and a further two at $50,000 a film. The film was a critical success. It established Burton as a Hollywood leading man and earned him his first Academy Award nomination and the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor. In Desert Rats (1953), Burton plays a young English captain in the North African campaign during World War II who takes charge of a hopelessly out-numbered Australian unit against the indomitable Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (James Mason). Mason, another actor known for his distinctive voice and excellent elocution, became a friend of Burton's and introduced the new actor to the Hollywood crowd. In short order, he met Judy Garland, Greta Garbo, Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons, Deborah Kerr, and Cole Porter, and Burton met up again with Humphrey Bogart.[8]:82 At a party, he met a pregnant Elizabeth Taylor (then married to Michael Wilding) whose first impression of Burton was that "he was rather full of himself. I seem to remember that he never stopped talking, and I had given him the cold fish eye."[4]:60

The following year he created a sensation by starring in The Robe, the first film to premiere in the wide-screen process CinemaScope, winning another Oscar nomination. He replaced Tyrone Power, who was originally cast in the role of Marcellus, a noble but decadent Roman in command of the detachment of Roman soldiers that crucified Jesus Christ, who, haunted by his guilt from this act, is eventually led to his own conversion. Marcellus' Greek slave (played by Victor Mature) guides him as a spiritual teacher, and his wife (played by Jean Simmons) follows his lead, although it will mean both their deaths. The film marked a resurgence in Biblical blockbusters.[8]:85 Burton was offered a seven-year, $1 million contract by Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox, but he turned it down, though later the contract was revived and he agreed to it.[8]:87 It has been suggested that remarks Burton made about blacklisting Hollywood while filming The Robe may have explained his failure to ever win an Oscar, despite receiving seven nominations.

In 1954, Burton took his most famous radio role, as the narrator in the original production of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, a role he would reprise in the film version twenty years later. He was also the narrator, as Winston Churchill, in the highly successful 1960 television documentary series The Valiant Years.[4]:90

Stage career

Burton was still juggling theatre with film, playing Hamlet and Coriolanus at the Old Vic theatre in 1953 and alternating the roles of Iago and Othello with the Old Vic's other rising matinee idol John Neville. Hamlet was a challenge that both terrified and attracted him, as it was a role many of his peers in the British theatre had undertaken, including John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.[8]:93 Bogart, on the other hand, warned him as Burton left Hollywood, "I never knew a man who played Hamlet who didn't die broke."[4]:67 Once again, Philip Burton provided expert coaching. Claire Bloom played Ophelia, and their work together led to a turbulent affair.[8]:94 His reviews in Hamlet were good but he received stronger praise for Coriolanus. His fellow actor Robert Hardy said, "His Coriolanus is quite easily the best I've ever seen" but Hamlet was "too strong".[8]:93

Burton appeared on Broadway, receiving a Tony Award nomination for Time Remembered (1958) and winning the award for playing King Arthur in the musical Camelot (1960), directed by Moss Hart and written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.[4]:67 Julie Andrews, fresh from her triumph in My Fair Lady, played Guenevere to Burton's King Arthur, with Robert Goulet as Lancelot completing the love triangle. The production was troubled, with both Loewe and Hart falling ill, numerous revisions upsetting the schedule and the actors, and the pressure building due to great expectations and huge advance sales. The show's running time was nearly five hours. Burton took it all in his stride and calmed people down with statements like "Don't worry, love." Burton's intense preparation and competitive desire served him well. He was generous and supportive to others who were suffering in the maelstrom. According to Lerner, "he kept the boat from rocking, and Camelot might never have reached New York if it hadn't been for him."[4]:93 As in the play, both male stars were enamoured of their leading lady, newly married Andrews. When Goulet turned to Burton for advice, Burton had none to offer, but later he admitted, "I tried everything on her myself. I couldn't get anywhere either."[4]:94 Burton's reviews were excellent, Time magazine stated that Burton "gives Arthur the skilful and vastly appealing performance that might be expected from one of England's finest young actors." The show's album was a major seller. The Kennedys, newly in the White House, also enjoyed the play and invited Burton for a visit, establishing the link of the idealistic young Kennedy administration with Camelot.

He then put his stage career on the back burner to concentrate on film, although he received a third Tony Award nomination when he reprised his Hamlet under John Gielgud's direction in 1964 in a production that holds the record for the longest run of the play in Broadway history (136 performances).[4]:148 The performance was immortalised both on record and on a film that played in US theatres for a week in 1964 as well as being the subject of books written by cast members William Redfield and Richard L. Sterne. Burton took the role on just after his marriage to Taylor. Since Burton disliked wearing period clothing, Gielgud conceived a production in a "rehearsal" setting with a half-finished set and actors wearing their street clothes (carefully selected while the production really was in rehearsal). Burton's basic reading of Hamlet, which displeased some theatre-goers, was of a complex manic-depressive personality, but during the long run he varied his performance considerably as a self-challenge and to keep his acting fresh. On the whole, Burton had good reviews. Time said that Burton "put his passion into Hamlet's language rather than the character. His acting is a technician's marvel. His voice has gem-cutting precision."[4]:144 The opening night party was a lavish affair, attended by six hundred celebrities who paid homage to the couple. The most successful aspect of the production was generally considered to be Hume Cronyn's performance as Polonius, winning Cronyn the only Tony Award that he would ever receive in a competitive category.

After his Hamlet, Burton did not return to the stage for twelve years until 1976 in Equus. (He did accept the role of Humbert Humbert in Alan Jay Lerner's musical adaptation of Lolita entitled Lolita, My Love. However he withdrew and was replaced by friend and fellow Welshman John Neville.) His performance as psychiatrist Martin Dysart won him both a special Tony Award for his appearance, but he had to make Exorcist II: The Heretic – a film he hated – before Hollywood producers would allow him to repeat his role in the 1977 film version. The final stage performance in which he starred was a critically reviled production of Noël Coward's Private Lives, opposite his ex-wife Elizabeth Taylor, in 1983. Most reviewers dismissed the production as a transparent attempt to capitalise on the couple's celebrity, although they grudgingly praised Burton as having the closest connection to Coward's play of anyone in the cast.

Hollywood career in the 1950s and 1960s

In terms of critical success, Burton's Hollywood roles throughout the 1950s did not live up to the early promise of his debut. Burton returned to Hollywood to star in Prince of Players, another historical Cinemascope film, this time concerning Edwin Booth, famous American actor and brother of Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth. A weak script undermined a valiant effort by Burton, although the view of director Philip Dunne was that "The fire and intensity were there, but that was all. He hadn't yet mastered the tricks of the great movie stars, such as Gary Cooper."[4]:71 Next came Alexander the Great (1956), written, directed, and produced by Robert Rossen, with Burton in the title role, on a loan out to United Artists, and again with Claire Bloom co-starring. Contrary to Burton's expectations, the "intelligent epic" was a wooden, slow-paced flop.[4]:75

In The Rains of Ranchipur, Burton plays a noble Hindu doctor who attempts the spiritual recovery of an adulteress (Lana Turner). Critics felt that the film lacked star chemistry, with Burton having difficulty with the accent, and relied too heavily on Cinemascope special effects including an earthquake and a collapsing dam. Burton returned to the theatre in Henry V and Othello, alternating the roles of Iago and Othello. He and Sybil then moved to Switzerland to avoid high British taxes and to try to build a nest egg, for themselves and for Burton's family.[4]:75 He returned to film again in Sea Wife, shot in Jamaica and directed by Roberto Rossellini. A young Joan Collins (then called by the tabloids "Britain's bad girl") plays a nun shipwrecked on an island with three men. But Rossellini was let go after disagreements with Zanuck. According to Collins, Burton had a "take-the-money-and-run attitude" toward the film. Burton turned down the lead for Lawrence of Arabia, also turned down by Marlon Brando, which went to newcomer Peter O'Toole.[4]:75–77

Then in 1958, he was offered the part of Jimmy Porter, "an angry young man" role, in the film version of John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger, a gritty drama about middle-class life in the British Midlands, directed by Tony Richardson, and again with Claire Bloom as co-star. Though it didn't do well commercially (many critics felt Burton, at 33, looked too old for the part) and Burton's Hollywood box office aura seemed to be diminishing, Burton was proud of the effort and wrote to his mentor Philip Burton, "I promise you that there isn't a shred of self-pity in my performance. I am for the first time ever looking forward to seeing a film in which I play".[8]:125 Next came The Bramble Bush and Ice Palace in 1960, neither important to Burton's career.

After playing King Arthur in Camelot on Broadway for six months, Burton replaced Stephen Boyd as Mark Antony in the troubled production Cleopatra (1963). Twentieth Century-Fox's future appeared to hinge on what became the most expensive movie ever made up until then, reaching almost $40 million.[4]:97 The film proved to be the start of Burton's most successful period in Hollywood; he would remain among the top 10 box-office earners for the next four years. During the filming, Burton met and fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor, who was married to Eddie Fisher. The two would not be free to marry until 1964 when their respective divorces were complete. On their first meeting on the set, Burton said "Has anyone ever told you that you're a very pretty girl?" Taylor later recalled, "I said to myself, Oy gevalt, here's the great lover, the great wit, the great intellectual of Wales, and he comes out with a line like that."[4]:103 In their first scenes together, he was shaky and missing his lines, and she soothed and coached him. Soon the affair began in earnest and Sybil, seeing this as more than a passing fling with a leading lady, was unable to bear it. She fled the set, first for Switzerland, then for London.

The gigantic scale of the troubled production, Taylor's bouts of illness and fluctuating weight, the off-screen turbulence—all generated enormous publicity, which by-and-large the studio embraced. Zanuck stated, "I think the Taylor-Burton association is quite constructive for our organization."[4]:118 The six-hour film was cut to under four, eliminating many of Burton's scenes, but the result was viewed the same—a film long on spectacle dominated by the two hottest stars in Hollywood. Their private lives turned out to be an endless source of curiosity for the media, and their marriage was also the start of a series of on-screen collaborations. In the end, the film did well enough to recoup its great cost.

Burton played Taylor's tycoon husband in The V.I.P.s, an all-star film set in the VIP lounge of London Airport which proved to be a box-office hit. Then Burton portrayed the archbishop martyred by Henry II in the title role of Becket, turning in an effective, restrained performance, contrasting with Peter O'Toole's manic portrayal of Henry.[4]:130

In 1964, Burton triumphed as defrocked Episcopal priest Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon in Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana directed by John Huston, a film which became another critical and box office success. Richard Burton's performance in The Night of the Iguana may be his finest hour on the screen, and in the process helped put the town of Puerto Vallarta on the map (the Burtons later bought a house there). Part of Burton's success was due to how well he varied his acting with the three female characters, each of whom he tries to seduce differently: Ava Gardner (the randy hotel owner), Sue Lyon (the nubile American tourist), and Deborah Kerr (the poor, repressed artist).[4]:135

Against his family's advice, Burton married Taylor on Sunday 15 March 1964, in Montreal. Ever optimistic, Taylor proclaimed, "I'm so happy you can't believe it. This marriage will last forever".[4]:140 At the hotel in Boston, the rabid crowd clawed at the newlyweds, Burton's coat was ripped and Taylor's ear was bloodied when someone tried to steal one of her earrings.[4]:142

After an interruption playing Hamlet on Broadway, Burton returned to film as British spy Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Burton and Taylor continued making films together though the next one The Sandpiper (1965) was poorly received. Following that, he and Taylor had a great success in Mike Nichols's film (1966) of the Edward Albee play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in which a bitter erudite couple spend the evening trading vicious barbs in front of their horrified and fascinated guests, played by George Segal and Sandy Dennis. Burton was not the first choice for the role of Taylor's husband. Jack Lemmon was offered the role first, but when he backed off, Jack Warner, with Taylor's insistence, agreed on Burton and paid him his price. Albee preferred Bette Davis and James Mason, fearing that the Burtons' strong screen presence would dominate the film.[4]:155, 163 Nichols, in his directorial debut, managed the Burtons brilliantly. The script by Hollywood veteran Ernest Lehman broke new ground for its raw language and harsh depiction of marriage. Although all four actors received Oscar nominations for their roles in the film (the film received a total of thirteen), only Taylor and Dennis went on to win. So immersed had the Burtons become in the roles of George and Martha over the months of shooting, after the wrap Richard Burton said, "I feel rather lost."[4]:142 Later the couple would state that the film took its toll on their relationship, and that Taylor was "tired of playing Martha" in real life.[8]:206

Their lively version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew (1967), directed by Franco Zeffirelli, was a notable success. Later collaborations, however, The Comedians (1967), Boom! (1968), and the Burton-directed Doctor Faustus (1967) (which had its genesis from a theatre production he staged and starred in at the Oxford University Dramatic Society) were critical and commercial failures. He did enjoy a final commercial blockbuster with Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare in 1968[13] but his last film of the decade, Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), was a commercial and critical disappointment. In spite of those failures, it performed remarkably well at that year's Academy awards (receiving ten nominations, including one for Burton's performance as Henry VIII), which many thought to be largely the result of an expensive advertising campaign by Universal Studios.[14]

Later career

Because of Burton and Taylor's extravagant spending and his support of his family and others (42 people at one point), Burton agreed to work in mediocre films that hurt his career. He recognised his financial need to do so, and that in the New Hollywood era of cinema he or Taylor would not soon again be paid as well as at the height of their stardom.[13] Films he made during this period included Bluebeard (1972), Hammersmith Is Out (1972), The Klansman (1974), and Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). He did enjoy one major critical success in the 1970s in the film version of his stage hit Equus, winning the Golden Globe Award as well as an Academy Award nomination. Public sentiment towards his perennial frustration at not winning an Oscar made many pundits consider him the favourite to finally win the award, but on Oscar Night he lost to Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl.

In 1976 Burton received a Grammy in the category of Best Recording for Children for his narration of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He also found success in 1978, when he narrated Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. His distinctive performance became a necessary part of the concept album – so much so that a hologram of Burton is used to narrate the live stage show (touring in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) of the musical.

Burton had an international box office hit with The Wild Geese (1978), an adventure tale about mercenaries in Africa. The film was a success in the UK and Europe but had only limited distribution in the U.S. owing to the collapse of the studio that funded it and the lack of an American star in the movie. He returned to appearing in critically reviled films like The Medusa Touch (1978), Circle of Two (1980), and the title role in Wagner (1983), a role he said he was born to play, after his success in Equus. His last film performance, as O'Brien in Nineteen Eighty-Four, was critically acclaimed.[13]

At the time of his death, Burton was preparing to film Wild Geese II, the sequel to The Wild Geese, which was eventually released in 1985. Burton was to reprise the role of Colonel Faulkner, while his friend Sir Laurence Olivier was cast as Rudolf Hess. After his death, Burton was replaced by Edward Fox, and the character changed to Faulkner's younger brother.

Oscars

He was nominated six times for an Academy Award for Best Actor and once for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – but he never won. From 1982, he and Becket co-star Peter O'Toole shared the record for the male actor with the most nominations (7) for a competitive acting Oscar without ever winning. In 2007, O'Toole was nominated for an eighth time (and subsequently lost), for Venus (however, O'Toole received an Academy Honorary Award in 2003).

Television

Burton rarely appeared on television, although he gave a memorable performance as Caliban in a televised production of The Tempest for The Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1960. Later appearances included the television film Divorce His – Divorce Hers (1973) opposite then-wife Elizabeth Taylor (a prophetic title, since their first marriage would be dissolved less than a year later), a remake of the classic film Brief Encounter (1974) that was considered vastly inferior to the 1945 original, and a critically applauded performance as Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm (1974). A critically panned film he made about the life of Richard Wagner (noted for having the only onscreen teaming of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in the same scenes) was shown as a television miniseries in 1983 after failing to achieve a theatrical release in most countries, but Burton enjoyed a personal triumph in the American television miniseries Ellis Island in 1984, receiving a posthumous Emmy Award nomination for his final television performance.

Television played an important part in the fate of his Broadway appearance in Camelot. When the show's run was threatened by disappointing reviews, Burton and co-star Julie Andrews appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform the number What Do The Simple Folk Do?. The television appearance renewed public interest in the production and extended its Broadway run.

Burton showed a subtle flair for comedy in a 1970 guest appearance with Elizabeth Taylor on the sitcom Here's Lucy, where he recited, in a plumber's uniform, a haunting excerpt of a speech from Shakespeare's Richard II. He later parodied this role in an episode of Television Show The Fall Guy.

In 1997, archive footage of Burton was used in the first episode of the television series Conan.[15]

Book

In 1964, Burton wrote a semi-autobiographical book A Christmas Story, which is an endearing tale of a Christmas Eve in a Welsh mining village, during the Depression.[16]

Personal life

Burton was married five times and he had four children. From 1949 until their divorce in 1963, he was married to producer Sybil Williams, by whom he had two daughters, Katherine "Kate" Burton (born 10 September 1957) and Jessica Burton (born 1961). He was married twice, consecutively, to actress Elizabeth Taylor, from 15 March 1964 to 26 June 1974 and from 10 October 1975 to 29 July 1976. Their first wedding took place in Montreal,[12] and their second wedding occurred, 16 months after their divorce, in the Chobe National Park in Botswana. In 1964, the couple adopted a daughter from Germany, Maria Burton (born 1 August 1961). Burton also adopted Taylor's daughter by the late producer Mike Todd, Elizabeth Frances "Liza" Todd Burton (born 6 August 1957).[17] Their relationship as portrayed in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was popularly likened to Burton and Taylor's real-life marriage.[18] Burton disagreed with others about Taylor's famed beauty, saying that calling her "the most beautiful woman in the world is absolute nonsense. She has wonderful eyes, but she has a double chin and an overdeveloped chest, and she’s rather short in the leg."[19] In August 1976, a month after his second divorce from Taylor, Burton married model Susan Hunt, the former wife of Formula 1 Champion James Hunt;[20] the marriage ended in divorce in 1982. From 1983 until his death in 1984, Burton was married to make-up artist Sally Hay.

In 1957 Burton became a tax exile by moving to Switzerland, where he lived until his death. It is widely believed he was never offered a knighthood due to his tax exile status, together with his attacks on Churchill and other controversial public opinions.

In 1968 Burton's elder brother, Ifor, slipped and fell, breaking his neck, after a lengthy drinking session with Burton at the actor's second home in Céligny, Switzerland. The injury left him paralysed from the neck down.[21] His younger brother Graham Jenkins opined it may have been guilt over this that caused Burton to start drinking very heavily, particularly after Ifor died in 1973.[22]

In a February 1975 interview with his friend David Lewin he said he "tried" homosexuality. He also suggested that perhaps all actors were latent homosexuals, and "we cover it up with drink".[23] In 2000, Ellis Amburn's biography of Elizabeth Taylor suggested that Burton had an affair with Laurence Olivier and tried to seduce Eddie Fisher[citation needed], although this was strongly denied by Burton's younger brother Graham Jenkins.[24]

Burton's gravestone at the Vieux Cemetery in Céligny. He is buried a few paces away from Alistair MacLean's grave.

Burton was notorious for his unrestrained pursuit of women while filming. Joan Collins wrote that when she rejected his on-set advances, he embarked on a series of liaisons with other women including an elderly black maid who, according to Collins, was "almost toothless". Collins playfully told Burton that she believed he would sleep with a snake if he had the chance, to which Burton is alleged to have replied "only if it was wearing a skirt, darling".

He was an insomniac and a notoriously heavy drinker. However, ongoing back pain and a dependence upon pain medications have been suggested as the true cause of his misery. He was also a heavy smoker from the time he was just eight years old; and by his own admission in a December 1977 interview with Sir Ludovic Kennedy, Burton was smoking 60–100 cigarettes per day. According to his younger brother Graham Jenkins's 1988 book "Richard Burton: My Brother", he smoked at least a hundred cigarettes a day.

His father, also a heavy drinker, refused to acknowledge his son's talents, achievements and acclaim.[7] In turn, Burton declined to attend his funeral, in 1957.[10] Like Burton, his father died from a cerebral haemorrhage, in January 1957, at the age of 81.

Burton admired and was inspired by the actor and dramatist Emlyn Williams. He employed his son Brook Williams as his personal assistant and adviser and he was given small roles in some of the films in which Burton starred.[25]

Burton was banned permanently from BBC productions in November 1974 for writing two newspaper articles questioning the sanity of Winston Churchill and others in power during World War II – Burton reported hating them "virulently" for the alleged promise to wipe out all Japanese people on the planet.[26] The publication of these articles coincided with what would have been Churchill's centenary, and came after Burton had played him in a favourable light in A Walk with Destiny, with considerable help from the Churchill family. In one article he accused Churchill of having Welsh miners shot during strikes in the 1920s.[citation needed] Ironically, Burton got along well with Churchill when he met him at a play in London, and kept a bust of him on his mantelpiece. On the Parkinson show in November 1974 Burton told a funny story about meeting Churchill; however, according to Robert Hardy, it was not true.[citation needed] Politically Burton was a lifelong socialist, although he was never as heavily involved in politics as his close friend Stanley Baker. He greatly admired Democratic Senator Robert F. Kennedy and once got into a sonnet-quoting contest with him. In 1973 Burton agreed to play Josef Broz Tito in a biopic, since he greatly admired the Yugoslav leader. While filming in Yugoslavia he publicly proclaimed that he was a communist, saying he felt no contradiction between earning vast sums of money for films and holding very left-wing views since "unlike capitalists, I don't exploit other people."[27] Burton courted further controversy in 1976 when he wrote a controversial article about his friend and fellow Welsh thespian Stanley Baker, who had recently died from pneumonia at the age of 48.[citation needed]

Health issues

The 1988 biography of Burton by Melvyn Bragg[8] provides a detailed description of the many health issues that plagued Burton throughout his life. In his youth, Burton was a star athlete and well known for his athletic abilities and strength. By the age of 41 he had declined so far in health that his arms were by his own admission thin and weak. He suffered from bursitis, possibly aggravated by faulty treatment, arthritis, dermatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and kidneys, as well as developing, by his mid-forties, a pronounced limp. How much of this was due to his intake of alcohol is impossible to ascertain, according to Bragg, because of Burton's reluctance to be treated for alcohol addiction; however, in 1974, Burton spent six weeks in a clinic to recuperate from a period during which he had been drinking three bottles of vodka a day. He was also a regular smoker, with an intake of between three and five packs a day for most of his adult life. Health issues continued to plague him until his death of a stroke at the age of 58.

Death

Burton died at age 58 from a brain haemorrhage on 5 August 1984 at his home in Céligny, Switzerland, and is buried there.[28] Although his death was sudden, his health had been declining for several years, and he suffered from a constant and severe pain in the neck. He had been warned that his liver was enlarged as early as March 1970,[21] and had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and kidneys in April 1981. Burton was buried in a red suit, a tribute to his Welsh roots, and with a copy of Dylan Thomas' poems.[citation needed] He and Taylor had discussed being buried together; his widow Sally purchased the plot next to Burton's and erected a large headstone across both, likely to prevent Taylor from being buried there.[29]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

Nominations

BAFTA Awards

Nominations

Emmy Awards

Nominations
  • 1985 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special, Ellis Island

Golden Globe Awards

  • 1953 Most Promising Newcomer – Male, My Cousin Rachel
  • 1978 Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, Equus
Nominations

Grammy Award Winner

Tony Awards

  • 1961 Best Actor – Musical, Camelot
  • 1976 Special Award
Nominations
  • 1959 Best Actor – Play, Time Remembered
  • 1964 Best Actor – Play, Hamlet

Filmography

Stage productions

Further reading

  • Shipman, D. The Great Movie Stars: The International Years, Angus & Robertson 1982. ISBN 0-207-14803-1

References

  1. ^ Obituary Variety, 8 August 1984.
  2. ^ "Richard Burton: Works 1970s". The Official Richard Burton Website. 2008. http://www.richardburton.com/film_70sbot.htm. Retrieved 5 June 2008. 
  3. ^ a b BBC Biography
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai Alpert, Hollis (1986). Burton. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0-399-13093-4. 
  5. ^ a b c Jenkins, David (subject's elder brother) Richard Burton: A brother remembered, (2nd edn) Arrow Books London 1994
  6. ^ Parish, James Robert (2007). The Hollywood Book of Extravagance: The Totally Infamous, Mostly. John Wiley and Sons. p. 26. ISBN 0470052058. 
  7. ^ a b welshwales.com biography
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Bragg, Melvyn (1988). Richard Burton: A Life. Boston, Massachusetts: Little Brown and Co.. ISBN 0-316-10595-1. 
  9. ^ "Richard Burton's Last Match" in Take the Ball and Run by Godfrey Smith (Pavillion, 1991). ISBN 978-1851456055
  10. ^ a b c Everything2 biography
  11. ^ Bragg, Melvyn (1990). Richard Burton: A Life (paperback/repack ed.). Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-35938-6. 
  12. ^ a b Segal, Lionel (26 March 2011). "The witness to the wedding". Montreal Gazette. http://www.montrealgazette.com/opinion/editorials/witness+wedding/4507239/story.html. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c Kashner, Sam; Schoenberger, Nancy (2010-07). "A Love Too Big To Last". Vanity Fair. http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/features/2010/07/elizabeth-taylor-201007?currentPage=all. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  14. ^ Inside Oscar, Mason Wiley and Damien Boa, Ballantine Books (1986) pg. 434
  15. ^ Conan at the Internet Movie Database
  16. ^ '/ A Christmas Story at Amazon.com
  17. ^ "Q&A: An update on Elizabeth Taylor's four children". St. Petersburg Times. 12 January 2010. http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/qampa-an-update-on-elizabeth-taylors-four-children/1064792. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  18. ^ Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton: The Film Collection – DVD
  19. ^ Gussow, Mel (23 March 2011). "Elizabeth Taylor, Lifelong Screen Star, Dies at 79". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/movies/elizabeth-taylor-obituary.html?_r=2&hp. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  20. ^ "Richard Burton married model Susan Hunt in Arlington, Va.". The Modesto Bee. AP (Modesto, California): p. C-9. 22 August 1976. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=gEYhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=bn8FAAAAIBAJ&pg=5246%2C1864680. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  21. ^ a b "Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor: The Love Letters. How drinking cocooned them from pressure of fame. Without it, they couldn't even make love". Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, Daily Mail, 7 June 2010]
  22. ^ Jenkins, Graham Richard Burton: My Brother (1988)
  23. ^ Ferris, Paul Richard Burton (1981) pp. 170–71.
  24. ^ "Anger at claim Burton was gay". BBC News (Wales). 10 April 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/708074.stm. Retrieved 31 August 2009. 
  25. ^ Brook Williams Obituary. The Independent. 11 June 2005. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  26. ^ Munn, Michael, Richard Burton: prince of players, Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2008. Cf. p.214 on Burton's diatribe and Winston Churchill.
  27. ^ Ferris, Paul Richard Burton (1981)
  28. ^ Dowd, Maureen (6 August 1984). "Richard Burton, 58, is Dead; Rakish Stage and Screen Star". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1110.html. Retrieved 21 July 2007. 
  29. ^ Boshoff, Alison (25 March 2011). "Is Liz Taylor's gay manager about to inherit her millions?". Daily Mail (UK). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1369731/Elizabeth-Taylor-death-Gay-manager-Jason-Winters-inherit-millions.html?ito=feeds-newsxml. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 

External links

Husband of Elizabeth Taylor
Preceded by
Eddie Fisher
Husband of Elizabeth Taylor
(by order of marriage)

1964–1974; 1975–1976
Succeeded by
John Warner

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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