Booze. Booze. Booze. Must stop! Vodka for breakfast so Liz wouldn't smell it when they kissed. Hands that couldn't stop trembling. In his own shame filled words, how alcohol killed Burton's second marriage to Taylor
08:26 GMT, 20 November 2012
In the final part of our serialisation of Richard Burton’s newly published private diaries, we take up the story as he and Liz Taylor have been reunited a year after the collapse of their first marriage in 1974 and are on holiday in South Africa.
Chest pains have seen Liz taken to hospital amid fears she may have lung cancer, though this is soon ruled out…
October, 1975 Saturday 4th: The most agonising hour of my life ended at approx 1pm yesterday. I had spent the previous hours — back to approx 4pm Thursday — in the most terrible fear for Elizabeth’s life and mine.
Sleep was no palliative. I am still suffering from delayed shock and will in a lesser form, I think, continue to suffer for the rest of my life. E was incomparably brave. I love her mindlessly and hopelessly.
Drinking to destruction: Hellraising wrecked both of the Burton-Taylor marriages
Sunday 5th: We leave for Chobe [Botswana] tomorrow and will be in our small portion of the barren earth for some days. And there shall be no mucking about. Chobe belongs to E and me. We love each other. It’s very simple.
Monday 6th: E in splendid form at lunch and a trifle tiddly, but sweetly so. Then E, with what seems like aid and abettance from Adele (public relations officer for Sunshine Hotels) suggested that we should get married in Chobe this week.
I thought they were joking and said so. But E turned out to be serious. I told her that I was afraid! Literally afraid, at the moment, that marriage might horrifyingly end in divorce. Result: the latter half of the day a series of joking, bitter invective from E.
We will, of course, get married again, if E so wishes, but [not] until I get over my fear — and since I am, at least, deliriously happy at the moment, why spoil it
Tuesday 7th: Left suspension, left wheel of plane packed it in. Very rough landing. Guess that we were within 6–12 in of kingdom come.
Addiction: Richard Burton's alcoholism began to have a serious impact upon his health
Decided to get married here as soon as possible unless E (or I, for that matter) changes mind. Love her beyond measure and above anything. She’s fast asleep. I’ve bathed in private pool. Shiver, shiver, shake, shake. Can’t wait for E to awaken!
Wednesday 8th: Awoke at dawn. Went up river in the afternoon. E talks endlessly about wedding. Can’t make up my mind. Might be that cancer scare has given everything an unnatural shape. Also, like being hanged, it concentrates a man’s mind wonderfully.
Thursday 9th: Stayed in bed all day yesterday. E fed me lunch in bed though had dinner in living room. Looks like marriage is on. I wonder why I’m still doubtful. It doesn’t seem right, but I don’t know why. Perhaps I’m afraid of legal responsibility. Also sex urge temporarily dormant. Very puzzling.
Friday 10th [the day they remarried]: We are as happy as children. We catch our breaths every so often and say with a kind of smiling wonder and delight: ‘Hey! Do you realise we are actually married’ We must have said it scores of times. I’ve never been so happy in my life. E cured me with loving, even lavish, attention. This is a far better marriage than the first. Got shamefully sloshed.
Saturday 11th: Woke up feeling very ill and to make sure that I wouldn’t get sloshed, ETB [Elizabeth Taylor Burton] gave me Antabuse [drug to combat alcoholism], which might quite easily have killed me, feeling as I did. However, felt emotionally very content.
Worried about E. She’s not aware of it, but sometimes, in a few seconds, she changes colour. Much as we love this place, must get her back to somewhere sophisticated for a thorough check-up. Nobody else seems to notice, but I watch my love intently without making it obvious. Please God she’s OK. I’d die without her now.
Monday 13th: E arrived back from safari very late and sick. Put her to bed. Undressed her. She said she was fine until she smoked a cigarette, then blacked out. What is it Nerves Not enough exercise Can’t be lungs, unless the doctor’s an idiot. Liver
Wednesday 15th: Got up early. Drank some wine while E asleep. Felt terrible. She took one look at me and put me to bed. I said it was malaria pills. She was very not amused.
Sunday 19th: Stayed in all day. Very hot. E not well at all. Don’t know how to help except by putting her to bed and feeding her. Honestly think before it’s too late that she should go into sanatorium. Wonder if booze at fault, though she doesn’t drink much. Love her and cross fingers.
Monday 20th: Two little birds crashed into the window. One merely stunned. Other looks dead. Let him lie for a bit. Neck broken, perhaps. One bird got himself up, then the other. Both OK and they flew away.
Golden couple: Richard Burton writes poignantly about his love of Liz Taylor and how the effects of heavy drinking put a strain on their second marriage
Tuesday 21st: Drank enormously and cheated when E wasn’t looking. Don’t remember much except falling a lot and suggesting divorce. Can’t control my hands, so cannot write any more. Very silly. Booze!
Wednesday 22nd: Having been so drunk yesterday, felt terrible in morning and was desperately ill. Went quietly at 9.30 to find a double brandy. Bar closed until 10. Asked for Fritz (manager). Reluctantly, he opened bar for me and suggested vodka as it wouldn’t be so smelly when E had morning kiss.
Have become a ‘falling-down’ [drunk]. My
hand-writing indicative of the shakes. Painful knee, bottom, right
elbow, back of head, right ear
Drank it with very shaking hands. Have become a ‘falling-down’ [drunk]. My hand-writing indicative of the shakes. Painful knee, bottom, right elbow, back of head, right ear.
E an angel, and looked like one. How does she do it Look so well, I mean, for she had a lot to drink, too.
Thursday 23rd: Two weeks married. Still faintly dizzy if I make any sudden movement. Had to have helping hand to walk first few steps in any direction. Very disappointed in myself, but periodically, no doubt, will fall into the trap.
Friday 24th: Made superb love to E in the afternoon. Gets better all the time, if that’s possible. Thought about death too much.
Monday 27th: Drank a lot. Don’t remember anything, if at all.
Tuesday 28th: Drank some more.
Wednesday 29th: Ditto. Must stop!
'Very silly. Booze!': Richard Burton, pictured in Gstaad in 1966, near Liz Taylor's Chalet Ariel, described drinking enormous quantities of alcohol – so much so he lost control of his hands
November Sunday 2nd, Victoria Falls: E practically sloshed all day on and off, mostly because we got into bitter arguments about wording of invitation cards re my birthday party. At one point, after I’d been peculiarly destructive, she went off in tears.
Tuesday 4th, Johannesburg: Booze.
Wednesday 5th: Booze.
Thursday 6th: Booze.
Friday 7th: Started Antabuse. Absolute torture. Read books all day long and tried to sleep.
Saturday 8th: Big pull-out from booze. Doctors all over me taking blood tests, intravenous feeding, etc. I look terrible and feel diabolical. Really must now never drink again except possibly a glass of wine with dinner.
Thursday 13th: Had Antabuse and then tried one small vodka. Antabuse works! V. sick. E very ashamed of me. Quite right, too.
Monday 24th, Dorchester Hotel, London: I slept 18 to 20 hours, on and off. E is unhappy about something. Talks about sex a lot.
Tuesday 25th: E in great form until about 8pm. Was then in terrible pain from neck and hands. Tears. Unusual. I’m worried to death. E very beautiful, despite pain.
Failing: Richard Burton and Liz Taylor's second marriage was already starting to show signs of breaking up as he heading to a London clinic to battle with his alcoholism
Burton stopped keeping his diary at this point. The following month, after spending some time in a London clinic, he flew with Elizabeth to Switzerland for Christmas. Their second marriage, however, was already failing.
Having become enchanted with Susan Hunt, the wife of Formula 1 world champion, James Hunt, he left Elizabeth behind when he flew to New York in early 1976 to star in Equus. Susan soon joined him. /11/20/article-2235529-0B4EA53A00000578-411_306x471.jpg” width=”306″ height=”471″ alt=”Richard Burton's diary details how the couple argued incesantly and lost entire days to a drunken haze” class=”blkBorder” />
Richard Burton's diary details how the couple argued incesantly and lost entire days to a drunken haze
March 1983 Saturday 12th, New York: Arrived NY on time. What a change in weather. Everyone drank except me. ET [Elizabeth Taylor] phoned in middle of dinner. Noise of clientele so loud that I could only get half of what she said. Doesn’t know a word of the play, says she.
Sunday 13th, Lombardy Hotel: Maria [Burton and Elizabeth’s adopted daughter] came over with baby. Went with them to see ET, who’s using Rock Hudson’s flat. E’s face OK, but figure splop! Also drinking. Also has not yet read the play! That’s my girl!
E. became very sentimental, saying: ‘Please don’t marry Sally, for my sake, for a long time’ [and] ‘I have no dates.’ She is very lonely. Feel sorry for her. A mass of mess. Poor thing. ‘I have no dates’ means ‘Nobody wants me for myself’. True, too!
Monday 14th: Began rehearsals. Arrived at 11.30 to find, as usual, that ET couldn’t get there till noon. ET still drinking. Wine only, she says.
ET bad. Couldn’t even read the lines properly. ET as exciting as a flounder temporarily. This is going to be a long, long seven months.
ET beginning to bore, which I would not have thought possible all those years ago. How terrible a thing time is.
Tuesday 15th: ET only 15 minutes late, but then spent 15 minutes more doing her eyebrows. She stinks of garlic — who has garlic for breakfast She’s also on something or other because there are lines she can’t say at all. Very worrying. Tells me twice an hour how lonely she is.
Wednesday 16th: ET one hour late today. Two Veganin [painkillers] stuck in her throat and in trying to shift them (with Fernet Branca) [an Italian herbal liqueur] she vomited. Then her car wouldn’t start, so mine was sent for her. She’s on the white wine today. Bought me a quite unnecessary Cartier scarf. Rehearsals with her very hard work. Stick it out, Rich.
Thursday 17th: ET phoned earlier in her ‘little voice’ full of brave self-pity to say she was very, very sick and had the trots and vomits and she was very sorry but couldn’t come to work. Sally and I exchanged looks directed at heaven.
Friday 18th: Ran through the whole play or rather stumbled through it. All day. ET beginning to learn her lines. Hope Sally will like it.
Saturday 19th: One large Martini, shared a lovely 1968 Lafitte, two brandies and was only mildly p****d.
Sunday 20th: Went to ET’s for brunch. All had Buck’s Fizz, except me. Ran through second act, with ET abysmal. She was quite crocked and couldn’t even read the lines, let alone remember them. ET gave me the terrors again. She’s such a mess.
Monday 21st: ET no better. Sally saw her have a Fernet Branca at 12.30pm, then she drank white wine quite openly. She’s terribly lacking in energy. Everything’s an effort — even to get up from a chair.
Thursday 24th: Usual day struggling with ET, who is slowly getting the part in some sort of shambling shape. I’m immensely surprised at the lack of preparation, but we still have four weeks before Broadway.
Strain: Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were plagued by bouts of ill health as their party lifestyle caught up with them
Tuesday 29th: ET’s lethargy disappearing fast. She will be good, I hope. So will I, I hope.
Thursday 31st: Most curious occurrence. Director went to lunch and came back exactly as if he were completely under the influence of booze (I thought). No smell on breath, so I thought it must be ‘speed’. ET thought he’d gone bonkers.
We muttered under our breaths (ET and I), but said nothing. Thank God ET understands enough Welsh to know when I’m telling her to control her temper.
On top of all which, ET lost a cap off her teeth. That means four teeth lost in the last five to six months in Sally’s and my presence.
April Friday 1st: The director made the mistake of insulting ET, whereupon I turned on the heat. I blistered and blasted him. Anyway, end result was we did it our way and not his. Result: we went through it like whipped cream.
Saturday 2nd: Two run-throughs today and the difference in performances was sensational in comparison with a mere 1 days ago.
There are no further entries in Richard Burton’s diary. Private Lives opened on Broadway on May 8, and was not a success.
That July, Sally and Burton married in Las Vegas. Just over a year later, on August 5, 1984, Burton suffered a cerebral haemorrhage at his home in Switzerland and died in hospital later that day.
Elizabeth Taylor married and divorced once more, before her death in March last year from heart complications.
Extracted from The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams (Yale University Press, 25). 2012 Swansea University. To order a copy for 19.99 (incl P&P), tel: 0843 382 0000.