Date of Birth : Nov 10th 1925
Richard Burton, CBE was a Welsh actor. He was at one time the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. Known for his distinctive voice, he was nominated seven times for Academy Awards for acting, but never won.
There is a widespread myth (perhaps encouraged or even believed by some members of his stoutly working-class family) that Richard Burton “won a scholarship to Oxford at the age of sixteen” but left after six months. The facts, as recorded by Burton himself in his autobiography and in Richard and Philip, which he co-wrote, are as follows: At the age of sixteen, he was forced to leave school and find work as a shop assistant. His former teacher, Philip Burton, recognising his talent, adopted him and enabled him to return to school. In 1943, at the age of eighteen, Richard Burton (who had now taken his teacher’s surname), was allowed into Exeter College, Oxford, for a term of six months study. This was made possible only because it was wartime and he was an air force cadet.
He subsequently served in the RAF (1944-1947) as a navigator. His eyesight was too poor for him to be considered pilot material.
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. He 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).
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. The performance was immortalized on both 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. 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 rehearsals). 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.
Burton and Taylor continued making films together: The Sandpiper (1965) was poorly received, but their lively version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967) being a notable success, while later collaborations The Comedians (1967), Boom (1968), and the Burton-directed Dr. Faustus (1967) (which had its genesis from a theatre production he staged and starred in at the Oxford University Dramatic Society) being critical and commercial failures. He did enjoy a final commercial blockbuster with Where Eagles Dare in 1968 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.
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 TV movie 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 1946 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 only for having the only onscreen teaming of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in the same scene) was shown as a television miniseries in 1983 after failing to achieve a theatrical release, but Burton enjoyed a personal triumph in the American television miniseries Ellis Island in 1984, receiving an Emmy Award nomination for his final television performance.
Late in his career, he played himself in an episode of the Television Show The Fall Guy, repeating a stunt he made in 1970 when he and then-wife Elizabeth Taylor appeared as themselves on an episode of Here’s Lucy as part of his unsuccessful campaign to win the Oscar for his nominated performance in Anne of the Thousand Days.
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.
Burton’s fourth marriage was to Suzy Hunt, ex-wife of motor racing driver James Hunt, (maiden name Suzy Millar, whose father was a judge in Kenya) and his fifth was to Sally Hay, a make-up artist who later became a successful novelist. While married to Sally, he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Switzerland, where he is buried. He was only 58 years old. Burton was buried in a red suit, a tribute to his Welsh roots.