This time, I’m talking about Richard Burton the actor, who is possibly most famous for being married twice to Elizabeth Taylor. Just like the explorer Richard Burton, this Richard also had a crazy life and was a bit of a douche bag.
Richard Burton was actually born Richard Walter Jenkins in November 1925 in a small village in Wales. He was the twelfth of thirteenth children! When his mother died two years after Richard’s birth (giving birth to baby number 13), Richard went to live with an older sister. Young Richard was a good student and a great athlete and he became quite close to his schoolmaster Philip Burton. But Richard left school at age 16 and went looking for work. When he joined the Air Training Corps, his old teacher Philip Burton was the commander. Because Richard was smart, Philip adopted him so that Richard could return to school. It was because of this adoption that Richard eventually changed his last name to Burton. Richard, however, remained close to his natal siblings.
Much of Richard’s acting was done on the stage. He did a lot of Shakespeare plays, which is awesome. He was Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part I, Hamlet in Hamlet, and Coriolanus in Coriolanus. Furthermore, he was the original King Arthur in the Broadway show Camelot (which, incidentally, lasted almost five hours!).
Burton was also in many movies, some of them awesome, some of them just for the money. His better films include the fabled Cleopatra, wherein he met Elizabeth Taylor, Becket (my personal favorite, in which Richard plays the titular archbishop opposite Peter O’Toole as Henry II), and The Night of the Iguana, based on the Tennessee Williams’ play. Burton also rocked out, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Sadly, their marriage had become a bit like that of the couple in the movie (aka: not good), and they divorced in 1974. The two remarried from 1975-1976, but they called it quits for good after that.
Burton died in 1984 at age 58, which seems rather young. But when you take into account his hard-living, it’s a wonder he lasted that long. Burton began smoking at age 8 and admitted in 1977 that he smoked 60 to 100 cigarettes per day. Per day! His younger brother, in a biography of Richard that appeared after Richard’s death, stated that Burton smoked at least 100 cigarettes a day. How is that even possible! Richard Burton also drank like the proverbial fish. At one point, he drank three bottles of vodka a day. Seriously? Burton makes Don Draper’s actions look moderate. And speaking of Don Draper, Burton was also a big fan of sex with the ladies (and possibly, to a lesser extent, of sex with men. He claimed in 1975 that he had “tried” homosexuality). Anyway, point being, the dude seemingly flirted with all of his female co-stars and bedded any woman he could. No wonder he was divorced four times (twice from Taylor, and then once each from two other wives)!
Richard was also a bit of a douche when it came to women. Aside from copiously cheating on his wives, he apparently said, about his wife Elizabeth Taylor, 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.” Who says that? Especially about his wife?
Burton was nominated for Oscars seven times, but he never won. Unlike many famous, talented British actors, he also never received a knighthood. Some speculate this is because Richard lived in Switzerland as a “tax exile” in order to avoid paying high UK taxes. [Please note, my fellow Americans, that we cannot use this little trick. Uncle Sam expects you to pay federal income taxes no matter where you live and no matter where you earned the income. The only way out is to renounce your US citizenship, which generally cannot be done if the government determines you are only doing it to avoid paying taxes.] But hey, Richard was married to Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most beautiful women ever (despite what Burton said), so maybe things worked out in the end?