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.