“You may be as vicious about me as you please. You will only do me justice.” (Richard Burton)
In the 1960s, the most popular actor in the world was Richard Burton, a hard-drinking Welshman who was nevertheless so professional that he was one of the preeminent stage performers of his day. In fact, he performed Shakespeare so magnificently that he was compared to British legend Laurence Olivier, and that success ultimately led to a film career that earned him seven Academy Award nominations, as well as BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for Best Actor.
Given his accomplishments on the stage and in Hollywood, Burton became one of the world’s most recognizable leading men, so it seemed fitting that he engaged in one of Hollywood’s most legendary romances with Elizabeth Taylor while on the set of Cleopatra, one of the era’s most notorious movies. In fact, his tumultuous relationship with Taylor, which included two marriages, dominated tabloids and remains the one thing most people associate with Burton today, despite the rest of his accomplishments.
Burton’s high-profile marriages to Taylor helped bring him attention, but they also led to more self-destructive behavior, and in a sense they represented the peak of Burton’s career. Over the last decade of his life, Burton began appearing in mediocre films, and due to his declining health and constant drunkenness, his performances were mediocre as well, often involving incoherent slurring. The fast life ultimately caught up with him in 1984, when a cerebral hemorrhage killed him at the age of 58. Fittingly, it was the same cause of death that befell his alcoholic father in 1957, just as Burton was at the precipice of Hollywood stardom.