TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (8)
|Also Known As:||Richard Walter Jenkins Jr.||Died:||August 5, 1984|
|Born:||November 10, 1925||Cause of Death:||cerebral hemorrhage|
|Birth Place:||United Kingdom||Profession:||Cast ... actor|
ut his tenure in the show was short-lived. Chronic back pain, along with cirrhosis of the liver and kidneys, forced him to abandon the show and undergo life-saving surgery. In "Wagner" (1983), Burton historically co-starred with fellow legendary thespians Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, but the film was another disaster; scathing critical reviews forced its producers to withdraw it from screenings and re-edit the project into a television miniseries. That same year, Burton undertook a national tour of Noel Cowardâ¿¿s "Private Lives" opposite his famous ex-wife that was lambasted by critics. Adding insult to injury was the failure of his marriage to Susan Hunt, which ended in divorce in 1982.
While working on "Wagner," Burton met production assistant Sally Hay. Charmed by her independence and work ethic, he fell in love with her, and they married while on tour with "Private Lives" in 1983. After giving a heartfelt performance as the White Knight opposite his daughter as "Alice in Wonderland" (PBS, 1983), his first film project since "Wagner" was Michael Radfordâ¿¿s adaptation of George Orwellâ¿¿s "1984," with Burton as Oâ¿¿Brien, a sinister member of a totalitarian government who tortured John Hurtâ¿¿s low-ranking office worker for the crime of free thought. Though nearly incapacitated by chronic neck and back pain throughout the film, his work was considered among the best he had delivered in decades.
After completing the American miniseries, "Ellis Island" (CBS, 1984), Burton returned to Switzerland and began preparing to work on "Wild Geese II." On August 5 of that year, Burton suffered a brain hemorrhage and died at his home in Celigny. He was buried with a copy of Dylan Thomasâ¿¿ poems. Amidst the flood of tributes that followed in his wake was a posthumous Emmy nomination for "Ellis Island" and the film "Wild Geese II" (1985) being dedicated to his memory after he was replaced by Edward Fox. In the years after his death, Burton remained a fixture in the one medium that had witnessed his greatest triumphs â¿¿ the stage â¿¿ as a hologram in the live stage show of "Jeff Wayneâ¿¿s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds," a concept album he had narrated in 1978.ton and Taylor had begun a very public affair. It soon became the scandal of the day â¿¿ Burton was still married to Williams, while Taylor was married to singer Eddie Fisher â¿¿ and earned them the scorn and rebuke of both the Vatican and the U.S. Congress, which voted to prevent them from returning to the United States after filming in Rome was completed. The tidal wave of press only helped to bring curious moviegoers to theaters, which made it the highest grossing film of the year â¿¿ though still a financial disaster, since its $26 million in ticket sales could never cover its price tag. The impact on Burton and Taylorâ¿¿s career, however, was immeasurable.
After divorcing Williams in 1963, with Taylor following suit in 1964, the couple finally married in March of that year, and settled into a routine of Hollywood glamour and excess, with every action covered in detail by the paparazzi. Crowds clamored for a glimpse of them at public events; in Boston, a throng of adoring fans physically assaulted the pair. For a time, they were the entertainment worldâ¿¿s golden couple, appearing in no less than seven films together. The most successful of these was "Whoâ¿¿s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1967), a searing film adaptation of Edward Albeeâ¿¿s play about a battling couple (Taylor and Burton) whose marriage troubles erupt before the horrified eyes of their guests (George Segal and Sandy Dennis). The picture earned Oscar nominations for all four stars, with Taylor and Dennis taking home the trophies. Also popular was the glossy drama "The VIPs" (1963), with Burton as a tycoon who takes advantage of a grounded flight to prevent his wife (Taylor) from leaving to join her lover (Louis Jordan), and "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967), a lush and rollicking adaptation of the Shakespeare play produced in part by the stars themselves.
As a solo performer, Burton made the history books by starring in a 1964 production of "Hamlet" that ran for 136 Broadway performances â¿¿ the longest ever for that play. Directed by John Gielgud and staged with the actors in street clothes, it won Burton his third Tony Award, and was preserved on film by Bill Colleran that same year. He followed this with an Oscar nomination as Thomas Becket opposite Peter Oâ¿¿Toole in "Becket" (1964); John Hustonâ¿¿s adaptation of Tennessee Williamsâ¿¿ "The Night of the Iguana" (1964) as a defrocked priest tempted on all sides by Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr and Sue Lyon; and then with "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" (1965), a gritty Cold War drama about a burnt-out British spy targeted for defection by the East Germans. The latter earned him critical acclaim and another Oscar nomination. During this period, Burton was among the highest paid and most successful actors in the business, earning over $1 million per picture.
But by the mid-1960s, Burton and Taylorâ¿¿s onscreen fortunes began to decline. A series of flops, beginning with "The Sandpiper" (1965) and continuing through "The Comedians" (1967), the baffling "Boom!" (1967) and "Dr. Faustus" (1967), cast a pall on the relationship, both publicly and privately. Burton was stumbling without Taylor as well. "The Staircase" (1969), with Burton and Rex Harrison as gay lovers, was met with total bewilderment, as was the sex farce "Candy" (1968). Only "Where Eagles Dare" (1969), a WWII action drama with Clint Eastwood, saw a positive response from audiences; his turn as Henry VIII in "Anne of a Thousand Days" (1969) earned him an Oscar nomination, though the film itself was critically panned. Offscreen, life was no better. Burtonâ¿¿s health was in steady decline due to round-the-clock smoking and drinking. By the time he commenced shooting "Raid on Rommel" in 1970, he was required to remain sober by physicianâ¿¿s orders.
Burtonâ¿¿s film career continued to decline in the 1970s. He gave enervated performances in a number of pictures, with only "Villain" (1971), an offbeat drama which cast him as a gay British gangster, and a film version of Dylan Thomasâ¿¿ "Under Milk Wood" (1971), which he narrated, showing some sign of his former power. The 1972 death of his brother Ifor cast him into a deep depression that brought his marriage to Taylor â¿¿ once the gold standard for Hollywood unions â¿¿ to an end in 1974. The first half of the decade was a seemingly endless list of film disasters, with "The Klansman" (1974), a wrongheaded potboiler with Burton as a farmer pitted against Klan members, and "Exorcist II: The Heretic" (1977), an astonishing foolish semi-sequel to William Friedkinâ¿¿s horror classic, with Burton attempting to exorcise a teenaged Linda Blair, among the low points. But a return to Broadway in 1976 with "Equus," about a psychiatrist dealing with a young, sexually troubled patient, was a critical success, as was Sidney Lumetâ¿¿s 1977 film version, which earned Burton a Golden Globe and his final Oscar nomination. On the personal front, Burton reconciled with Taylor, whom he re-married in Botswana in 1975. The press was divided on whether the move was a positive one or not, as the two actors battled just as fiercely as they loved.
The union, like Burtonâ¿¿s return to the spotlight, was short-lived. While rehearsing for "Equus," he fell in love with Susan Hunt, former wife of Formula 1 racing champion James Hunt. He divorced Taylor in 1975 and married Hunt. Meanwhile, the attention generated by "Equus" soon fell away as Burton returned to a string of unqualified failures, including "The Medusa Touch" (1978) and "Lovespell" (1979). Only "The Wild Geese" (1978), a rowdy, action-packed adventure with Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Stewart Granger as mercenaries hired to rescue an African leader, made any impact with moviegoers.
In 1980, Burton returned to theaters with a revival of "Camelot," b
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