Monday, August 5, 2013

Remembering Richard Burton November 10, 1925 - August 5, 1984

Richard Walter Jenkins was born on November 10, 1925 and was the twelfth of 13 children.  He lived in the mining village of Pontrhydfen in South Wales.  His mother died at the age of 44 leaving two year old Richard to be raised by his sister, Cis.  Richard admired his sister and cherished her motherly role.  For the most part, Richard's father was absent from the family but would occasionally come around when he wasn't drinking.

Richard showed his talent for English and Welsh literature at an early age having demonstrated an excellent memory, though at that time, he was very interested in sports.  He was an excellent cricket and table tennis player.  He developed some bad habits at an early age having started to smoke at the age of 8 and drink regularly at age 12.

He greatly admired his schoolmaster, Philip H. Burton and became involved in school productions.  Philip Burton wanted to adopt Richard but was unable due to their age difference (one year short of the minimum 20 years required).  Richard left school at the age of 16 for full time work. In addition, Richard also was a talented speaker with an outstanding voice.  During that time, he considered boxing, religion and singing as a future career.  He reunited with his teacher when he joined the Port Talbot Squadron of the Air Training Corp. as a cadet.  Philip spent a great deal of time helping Richard with his voice having recognized his natural talent.  Richard eventually took his teacher's name of Burton. Richard Burton continued to pursue an acting and singing career and performed on stage and cinema in the United Kingdom.  He took minor parts on radio and began his professional acting career in Liverpool where he appeared first in "Druid's Rest."  He would eventually sign on with a theatrical agency and his first film was "The Last Days of Dolwyn" where he received rave reviews for his performance. He would soon marry a young actress by the name of Sybil Williams.  The couple had two daughters but would divorce in 1963 following reports that Burton was having an affair with Elizabeth Taylor.

Burton successfully transitioned to be a Hollywood star and was given a leading role in "My Cousin Rachel" and was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor.  His career skyrocketed and he would appear in many hugely successful films over his career.  He starred in "Prince of Players" "Alexander the Great" "The Rains of Ranchipur" and at the same time had success in the theatre as well.  He played King Arthur in Camelot on Broadway and then Cleopatra. For the next four years, Burton was among the 10 top box office performers and during that time fell in love with the married Elizabeth Taylor.  They performed together in several films.  He had an international box office hit with "The Wild Geese" He also had roles in "The Medusa Touch" "Circle of Two" title role in "Wagner"  and "The Taming of the Shrew"  He became the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

Richard Burton was nominated six times for an Academy Award for Best Actor and once for Supporting Actor.

He rarely appeared on television except for his memorable appearance as "Caliban" in "The Tempest" for the Hallmark Hall of Fame. He was also successful in the TV miniseries "Ellis Island"  and appeared with Elizabeth Taylor on "Here's Lucy"

Richard and Liz' relationship was portrayed in the film "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"  When Liz and Richard decided to call it quits, Richard was married two more times giving him a total of five

At the time of Richard's death, he was preparing for the film "Wild Geese II, having played Colonel Faulkner along with his friend and fellow actor Sir Laurence Olivier.

On the personal side of Burton, he developed some serious health issues that resulted from his not taking care of himself beginning as a child.  He was a chain smoker (between 3 and 5 pack of cigarettes a day) and at one time drank three bottles of vodka each day.

Westwood invitation and program
St. Martin's Program
Richard Burton died from a stroke on August 5, 1984 at the age of 58.  Although his death was sudden, his health had been declining for many years.  He had cirrhosis of the liver and kidney disease.  He also suffered from severe neck pain.

His funeral service was held in a small church (program pictured) in Geneve, Switzerland and was buried in his red suit along with a copy of the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas.  He was laid to rest in the Vieux Cemetery.  Public memorial services were held at the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles (program pictured) as well as the order of service (pictured) in Bethel Chapel in Pontrhydyfena and the order of service (pictured) from the Royal Parish Church in St. Martin-in-The-Fields in London, England attended by Elizabeth Taylor and his sister, Cecilia.

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