The undeniable chemistry between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of “Cleopatra” was just the beginning of one of Hollywood’s greatest real-life love stories of all time.
Liz Taylor knew what she was putting herself into when she decided to throw herself in Burton’s arms after they first kissed in a scene of “Cleopatra.” The sparkle between them was so obvious that soon it became the talk of the set. She knew his reputation as a womanizer, but she couldn’t help herself:
“When you are in love and lust like that, you just grab it with both hands and ride out the storm.”
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during the shooting of "Cleopatra" both in costume in a publicity still issued for the film, 'Cleopatra', 1963. | Source: Getty Images
She was one of the most important Hollywood stars of her time, and he was the Shakespearian actor of his generation. What was meant to be just an on-screen love story turned into a real-life romance.
They had met a decade before “Cleopatra” was filmed and it wasn’t love at first sight. In 1952, they met at a party and Burton was already well known around the social circle as a womanizer. At the time, Taylor had decided to not “be a notch on his belt.”
Well, maybe not at that time. Ten years later they reunited to costar the iconic “Cleopatra.” Taylor played the Egyptian queen and Burton, her lover, Mark Antony.
American actress Elizabeth Taylor with husband Welsh actor Richard Burton (1925 - 1984) in Los Angeles in 1963. | Source: Getty Images
The all-consuming relationship was intense right from the start. When they came together at the film making, she was married to Eddie Fisher, and he was married to Sybil Christopher.
Early in the production, she’d confessed to her then-husband about her affair with Burton, who showed up drunk and at the social event the couple was throwing, uninvited. After an altercation between the three, Burton and Taylor kissed in front of Fisher.
Among her eight marriages, Richard Burton was perhaps the one who had the hypnotic effect on Taylor and it the most extreme relationship of them all, both in a good way and bad way.
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor photographed in November 1970. | Source: Getty Images
Everything about this couple was intense — drinking, partying, loving, and fighting. However, there's a limit to everything. Their marriage never worked, despite the intensity of feelings.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, either. The duo had 13 years of a tumultuous relationship that included 11 years of marriage, a divorce, a remarriage, and a year later a second divorce.
The author of the memoir “My Life in Focus, A Photographer’s Journey with Elizabeth Taylor and the Hollywood Jet Set,” and Taylor’s close friend, Gianni Bozzacchi, revealed that their passion was so strong that it was, at the same time destructive.
Richard Burton as Marc Antony with Liz Taylor as Cleopatra during the filming of "Cleopatra" in 1963. | Source: Getty Images
Their relationship was fueled by drama coming from both sides. Taylor had a strong self-destructive tendency which would lead her to match Burton’s volatility. The actress attempted suicide twice, including one in front of Burton.
Taylor and Burton didn't hold back from screaming at and fighting with each other, and things even got physical at times. In one episode, according to the studio head Spyros Skouras, Taylor once received an injury:
“Two black eyes, her nose was out of shape, and it took 22 days for her to recover enough in order to resume filming."
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Israel in 1975. | Source: Getty Images
The romance-drama dynamic was fuel for headlines at the time and drew worldwide attention to the duo. Their inclination for excessiveness took many forms.
She was obsessed with jewelry, so Burton went on to outbid Aristotle Onassis to buy the most expensive diamond in the world for his wife, the 69.42 carat Krupp diamond, known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond. Their splurging went on to designer clothes, yachts, and private jets as well.
Gianni revealed that the love of the “most important couple in the world” was very real, yet very fragile. According to him, they didn’t really have privacy, and their extravagant lifestyle along with a number of feuds made them the paparazzi’s favorite couple at the time.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the film ''The Comedians'', directed by Peter Glenville in 1967. | Source: Getty Images
Burton’s alcoholism and compulsive womanizing had him flirting with virtually every woman he met, including friend’s wives and even younger girls. In one of his numerous letters to Taylor, this one written after another betrayal:
“I know I'm a terrible liar sometimes, but please believe that I have never betrayed either in word or deed the physical you or the mental you. I simply love you too much.”
After more than a decade of a publicized self-destructive relationship, Taylor filed for divorce in 1974, claiming she “had tried everything she could.”
Left to right: actors Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011), Stanley Baker (1928 - 1976) and Richard Burton (1925 - 1984) in a bar, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, 12th January 1964. Burton is in Mexico for location filming on John Huston's 'The Night Of The Iguana'. | Source: Getty Images
Even after the petition, Burton kept on writing her letters, sometimes nearly on a daily basis, even went as far as threatening to kill himself if she wouldn’t get back to him; while at the same time, he would find himself engaged with several affairs.
Among his mistresses, one was an 18-year-old waitress, mother of three, whose husband threatened to kill Burton, and the other one was Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia.
They met a year later to discuss the divorce settlement but ended up teary-eyed in each others’ arms. They remarried but the second attempt wouldn’t last long. Despite their deep love for each other, the problems they went through in the 11 years of marriage were still there.
Richard Burton And Elisabeth Taylor At The Sistina Theater At Rome In Italy On October 5Th 1966. | Source: Getty Images
The second union didn’t last a full year and Burton engaged in an affair with the tall and blonde Suzy Hunt. He saw in Hunt an opportunity for a brand new start, away from the drama, drunkness, and destructive relationship he had with Taylor.
He married Hunt three weeks after the divorce and Taylor ended up wedding Republican Senator John Warner. Even after years of separation, the two would eventually meet, rapidly igniting the spark between them.
Burton eventually gave up drinking with the help of his two former wives, first Suzy and then his next wife Sally. However, while on a night out with John Hurt in 1984, he fell off the wagon that culminated in a cerebral hemorrhage. He passed away two days later, at 58.
Actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011) stars in the MGM film, 'Cat On A Hot Tin Roof', 1958. | Source: Getty Images
Even after marrying her seventh husband, Elizabeth Taylor admitted that she never stopped loving Burton. According to Closer Weekly, she even kept a photo of him at her nightstand decades after his death.
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