Richard Burton - Personal Life

Personal Life

Burton was married five times and he had four children. From 1949 until their divorce in 1963, he was married to producer Sybil Williams, by whom he had two daughters, Katherine "Kate" Burton (born 10 September 1957) and Jessica Burton (born 1959). He was married twice, consecutively, to actress Elizabeth Taylor, from 15 March 1964 to 26 June 1974 and from 10 October 1975 to 29 July 1976. Their first wedding took place in Montreal, and their second wedding occurred, 16 months after their divorce, in the Chobe National Park in Botswana. In 1964, the couple adopted a daughter from Germany, Maria Burton (born 1 August 1961). Burton also adopted Taylor's daughter by the late producer Mike Todd, Elizabeth Frances "Liza" Todd Burton (born 6 August 1957). Their relationship as portrayed in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was popularly likened to Burton and Taylor's real-life marriage. Burton disagreed with others about Taylor's famed beauty, saying 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." In August 1976, a month after his second divorce from Taylor, Burton married model Susan Hunt, the former wife of Formula 1 Champion James Hunt; the marriage ended in divorce in 1982. From 1983 until his death in 1984, Burton was married to make-up artist Sally Hay.

In 1957 Burton became a tax exile by moving to Switzerland, where he lived until his death. It is widely believed he was never offered a knighthood because of his tax exile status, together with his attacks on Churchill and other controversial public opinions.

In 1968 Burton's elder brother, Ifor, slipped and fell, breaking his neck, after a lengthy drinking session with Burton at the actor's second home in Céligny, Switzerland. The injury left him paralysed from the neck down. His younger brother Graham Jenkins opined it may have been guilt over this that caused Burton to start drinking very heavily, particularly after Ifor died in 1973.

In a February 1975 interview with his friend David Lewin he said he "tried" homosexuality. He also suggested that perhaps all actors were latent homosexuals, and "we cover it up with drink". In 2000, Ellis Amburn's biography of Elizabeth Taylor suggested that Burton had an affair with Laurence Olivier and tried to seduce Eddie Fisher, although this was strongly denied by Burton's younger brother Graham Jenkins.

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. He was also a heavy smoker from the time he was just eight years old; and by his own admission in a December 1977 interview with Sir Ludovic Kennedy, Burton was smoking 60–100 cigarettes per day. According to his younger brother Graham Jenkins's 1988 book Richard Burton: My Brother, he smoked at least a hundred cigarettes a day.

His father, also a heavy drinker, refused to acknowledge his son's talents, achievements and acclaim. In turn, Burton declined to attend his funeral, in 1957. Like Burton, his father died from a cerebral haemorrhage, in January 1957, at the age of 81.

Burton admired and was inspired by the actor and dramatist Emlyn Williams. He employed his son Brook Williams as his personal assistant and adviser and he was given small roles in some of the films in which Burton starred.

Burton was banned permanently from BBC productions in November 1974 for writing two newspaper articles questioning the sanity of Winston Churchill and others in power during World War II – Burton reported hating them "virulently" for the alleged promise to wipe out all Japanese people on the planet. The publication of these articles coincided with what would have been Churchill's centenary, and came after Burton had played him in a favourable light in A Walk with Destiny, with considerable help from the Churchill family. In one article he accused Churchill of having Welsh miners shot during strikes in the 1920s. However, Burton got along well with Churchill when he met him at a play in London, and kept a bust of him on his mantelpiece. Politically Burton was a lifelong socialist, although he was never as heavily involved in politics as his close friend Stanley Baker. He admired Democratic Senator Robert F. Kennedy and once got into a sonnet-quoting contest with him. In 1973 Burton agreed to play Josef Broz Tito in a film biography, since he admired the Yugoslav leader. While filming in Yugoslavia he publicly proclaimed that he was a communist, saying he felt no contradiction between earning vast sums of money for films and holding left-wing views since "unlike capitalists, I don't exploit other people." Burton courted further controversy in 1976 when he wrote an unsolicited article for The Observer about his friend and fellow Welsh thespian Stanley Baker, who had recently died from pneumonia at the age of 48; the article upset Baker's widow with its depiction of her late husband as an uncultured womaniser.

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