Renowned actor Richard Burton, known for his performances in The Dress (1953), Beckett (1964), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), and Equus (1977), received seven Oscar nominations during his career. He married Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor in 1964, and the two had a tumultuous relationship that included remarriage and two divorces.
Burton, born as Richard Walter Jenkins on November 10, 1925, in Pontrhydfen, South Wales, was the twelfth child of a coal miner and lost his mother at a young age. He was mentored by Philip Burton, a teacher who became his guardian and introduced him to the world of theater.
Jenkins adopted the surname Burton and made his debut as an actor in London, playing a Welsh character in the play The Druid’s Rest. He was awarded a scholarship to study at Oxford University, and later joined the British air force during wartime.
After leaving the military in 1947, he persisted with his stage career and became recognized for his distinctive voice and oratory skills, featuring in The Lady’s Not for Burning with Sir John Gielgud. His first film appearance was in the 1949 production The Last Days of Dolwyn. The same year, he married actress Sybil Williams and the couple had two daughters.
Throughout his career, Burton appeared in over 40 films, receiving varying levels of commercial and critical success. After his debut in Dolwyn, he signed a contract with Fox studios and starred in My Cousin Rachel (1952), earning his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He received another Oscar nomination for his role in the 1953 biblical film The Dress. He also played the lead in the epic Alexander the Great (1956) and the British protest film Look Back in Anger (1959).
While working in film, Burton also continued to perform on stage. He received acclaim for his work with the Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare companies in Britain, and on Broadway in the 1960 production of Camelot.
In the early 1960s, Burton and Elizabeth Taylor met on the set of the multimillion-dollar epic Cleopatra (1963), where he was hired to replace actor Stephen Boyd. The two began a relationship, despite both being married at the time. This relationship was met with criticism from traditional institutions, including the Vatican, and their romantic tribulations and luxury-item escapades were widely covered in the tabloids.
Burton’s final film was 1984, an adaptation of the George Orwell classic. He passed away on August 5, 1984, at the age of 58, from a brain hemorrhage at his home in Céligny, Switzerland. He was survived by Sally Hay Burton, his fourth wife, who continued to manage his estate.