Good bye, Richard

Winter has come and gone, so I say Adieu to this year’s focus, Richard Burton.

I finished the entertaining biography, Furious Love, by Sam Kashner & Nancy Schoenberger. Diving into his private journals, letters and exploring artifacts and associations, they created an in-depth portrayal of Richard Burton and honored him as a legendary stage and screen actor. When Elizabeth Taylor entered his life, their scandals and private life were broadcasted around the world. Critics and adoring fans couldn’t get enough of them. They lived in hotels, on their yacht, or beach home in Puerto Vallarta. They shared their children, their pets, and their money with family members and a huge entourage of help who followed them under the constant pop and crackle of the lights of the paparazzi.

Such conspicuous wealth enflamed their critics and created an intoxicating fairy tale story that allured and raised curiosity. According to his letters, Burton was proud of his rags to riches story. “Not bad for the son of a Welch miner!” when confronted with reports of yearly expenditures and costs to cover their flamboyant lifestyle. I think most of us would prefer to be wealthy to the alternative. To live in their shoes would be a dream come true, right? Celebrity stories are frequently repetitive. Scandal. Tragedy. Abuse. Highs and lows. Death. In the end, are you surprised to know that Richard and Elizabeth were human beings whose insecurities frequently got the better of them?

After watching many Richard Burton films, what did I discover? Well, he’s not my favorite movie star. Forget about several of his films, I say. It was his stage performances that were meaningful.  The best films he ever did were play adaptations. Maybe you knew that all along. For me, it was fun to find out.

Burton received many awards and nominations for his acting in movies, Broadway and television. He received two Golden Globes for his movies My Cousin Rachel and Equus. He received a BAFTA for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

He received two Tony Awards. One for the musical Camelot and a life time Special Award in 1976. He was also the winner of a Grammy Award for The Little Prince in the category of Best Children’s Recording.

His 1977 performance in Equus as Dr. Dysart is the last great performance.

In the film 1984 based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Richard Burton seemed wooden. In fact, I learned a botched neck surgery forbade the use of his arms. I revisited the film and conceded the contrast of the cold torturer O’Brien to Winston Smith (John Hurt) was fitting. John Hurt’s emotional performance was breathtaking. So, too, was Suzanna Hamilton playing Julia. Seeing the film today is as relevant as when the 1949 novel was published and the film released in 1984.

Burton died of an aneurysm a few months after filming when he reportedly spent time with John Hurt at Burton’s Switzerland home. The two went into the village to drink at a bar and Burton got into a skirmish and was pushed. He fell and hit his head. The next day he complained of a massive headache and his wife Sally Burton took him to the hospital. He died on August 4, 1984, of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was 58 years old.

I believe Richard Burton had a God-given voice and a fascinating personality.

35 thoughts on “Good bye, Richard

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  1. Great post Cindy 🙂 And yes, Richard Burton did indeed have “a God-given voice and a fascinating personality.” As for his final film 1984, that one was, while far from a bad film, something of a disappointment. If you want something richer, check out (If you have not seen it that is) Terry Gilliam’s Brazil from a year later. Here is a link to the US trailer below and keep up the great work as always 🙂

    1. Ha! This project I allow two months. I am ready to move on and post about something else –even though we still have remnents of snow on the hills and wear a winter coat in the mornings. Elsewhere in the country, it’s unrelenting.Thanks, Belinda for the comment!

    1. I had to watch it twice. The first time, I was angry at Richard. He seemed like a ghost of his former self. I assumed he was pickled.
      Then I watched it again and concentrated on his eyes. That helped a lot. Truly, it was John Hurt’s performance that stayed with me. A perfect performance.

      1. i mean wagner, the composer. how played o brien in 1984. wagner was his last great role. i loved some of his drunk work, especially the klansman, with lee marvin who was equally drunk.

        1. Lee Marvin beat him out of Richard’s nomination seven years prior with Cat Balou to his George in WAVW. Now they are starring together. Turns out they liked each other. Richard was in a lot of pain and toughed it out like a man which impressed Marvin. Their addiction to alcohol they shared, as you know. I don’t think ‘impressive’ is the right word, but to be constantly drunk–for decades–and still have that memory, well, it’s amazing.

          1. i absolutely hated cat ballou when i saw it in theatres and have tried to like it on subsequent occasions…to no avail. two things in life i regret. not attending the lee marvin palimony trial and not going to see burton and taylor in private lives. virgina woolf brings up an inerestng point regarding an issue you brought up in a previous blog. my view is that acting has degenerated in recentdecades because the material dot require acting skills. people assess actors on whether on whether or not they enjy watching them, not on their ability. virginia woolf was a challenge to taylor and se rose to it. it was the quality of ,id century american writers that forced the actors to learn to act. moost movies today are cbbled together from generic scenes that the actors now simply imitate. there are few scene or character challenges. just yesterday i enjoyed a stupid move, second act, with hennfer lopez, who i enjoy watching althoughi wouldnt say she is a good actor.

          2. I believe that’s why I feel Burton did his best acting when it was a stage adaptation. You are right. There are few roles that require one to rise to the surface like Elizabeth as Martha. Drama to film offers more opportunities to dig deep emotionally and create a new presence on the screen. It’s hard not to be side-swiped by the bells and whistles of style. The star allure factor has always competed with acting. And I feel that comedy is harder to pull of than drama. Timing and understanding a character enough to match up the body language with the voice and the eyes–it’s not easy. Those that did it well (Brando, Depp, Julianne Moore, Streep) make it look easy.

  2. Thanks for sharing Cindy, I think he was a very talented actor who lived a fascinating life. They were the biggest celebrity couple of that era. How do you live through that and not take a toll?

    1. Lloyd, thanks for reading! They are compared to Brad and Angelina, but they were much more than Brangelina. Richard managed to keep his feet on the ground because he began as a poor boy from a large family in Wales and worked his way up to fame. Elizabeth, on the other hand, came from a higher station financially and as a kid hit it big with her first screentest. Her entire life was a fantasy world. Which begets fantasy. It was hard to wave away the fog of her icon status and see the artist, the woman. She was a kindhearted woman who was loyal to the things and people she loved. She was tough and could handle the studio system and men pawing at her for decades. What a horrible expectation to be the most beautiful woman in the world!

      1. It’s a fascinating life and pair of individuals. Michael Caine once worked with Elizabeth Taylor. She had it in her contract that she would not start before 10am. Crew and cast members including Caine had to be there beforehand and figure out what to do beforehand, sometimes difficult when your leading lady is not yet present. If you hadn’t met her before, it put you on tenterhooks, everybody knew when Liz showed up. When she did though she went to work though she was a professional all the way. She just needed that time and she got it – now that’s star power!

        1. She was a strong woman learning that the big boys took her money and cashed in on her clout. She and Richard formed their own company. Before that, she was the highest paid felmale commanding over a $million dollars per film. She called the shots. But you are right. She took her job seriously and was a professional. She always knew her lines. She was a partier and it took all morning for her team to make her beautiful. That’s probably why she need to start at 10.
          Thanks, friend, for commenting.

  3. That was a real achievement to get into a skirmish in a Swiss bar. Switzerland is the most orderly society in the world. It’s a little bit like getting into a fight at the Salvation Army!
    I don’t have a lot of time for Richard Burton. I think that his accent has filled in a lot of cracks in his acting…or I would say “over-acting”.
    I think that his best work was reading Dylan Thomas aloud and I would try “Under Milk Wood: Seven Poems” at
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Under-Milk-Wood-Seven-Poems/dp/B00CHFOD4K/ref=sr_1_4?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1551686156&sr=1-4&keywords=richard+burton

    I think that was the start of Richard Burton’s fame.

    1. There’s another follower, Fraggle, who shared the very same link. You both are spot on! He loved Dylan Thomas and knew much of his work by memory. I am so glad you put in the link so others will listen to it, too. I think I’ll move it into the post. Yes, yes, he was at his best speaking poetry. 🙂

  4. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about Burton and his films. His voice is undeniably distinctive, and was undoubtedly his greatest asset. His relationship with Taylor and the accompanying celebrity status seemed to overwhelm both their careers too soon.
    John Hurt was a far superior actor in my opinion, with a much greater range. Have you seen him in the heart-braking ‘The Elephant Man’ (1980), directed by David Lynch? Or as Quentin Crisp, in the award-winning ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ (1975)?
    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073438/
    I could go on. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Yes, loved John in ‘The Elephant Man’. I would rank it up there on my “all time favorite” list. I haven’t seen Naked Ciivl Servant, so there’s one to watch. Thank you, Pete. The bio Furious Love was one of the better ones I’ve read in a while. Very entertaining and informative.

    1. Derrick, yes, he was as eloquent as they come when he read poetry. I just added Richard reading “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” at the bottom of the post to share his voice to those who do not know or remember.

    1. They were good buddies for many reasons. I loved Becket. I always think of Peter, Richard Burton and Richard Harris in the same way. All three gifted stage actors. All three coming from a time when drinking was the norm. The Camelot connection between stage and film with the two Richards…Richard Burton said, “I never knew an interesting man who didn’t drink.” Strange how dranking is a measure of masculinity–holding one’s own, for instance, is manly, and not drinking “real” drinks, preferring wine, for instance, is a sign of sissiness. I know when I was in the Navy, it was expected that I would drink and lots of it, too.

  5. I watched “The Taming of the Shrew” over the weekend. I think that Richard Burton must also have had a terrific sense of humor. Without it, he could never made “The Taming of the Shrew”. I wonder what sort of movie he would appear in if he were alive today.

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