Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
So who was Richard Burton?
An outstanding stage and voice actor, and one of the world's iconic movie stars too, but Burton is perhaps most famous for his love affair with Elizabeth Taylor, which began on the set of their movie, Cleopatra.
Where did he drink?
All over the world - often, with Taylor, in the world's best hotels, of which they would usually take a floor or two: The Dorchester, in London; the Lancaster, in Paris; The Beverly Hills Hotel in LA (they liked Bungalow Five); The GreenGo disco at the Gstaad Palace Hotel; Harry's Bar, Venice; Saddle Peak Lodge, in Malibu; the Sahara, in Las Vegas; his home in Puerto Vallarta; and private homes around the world.
What did he drink?
Burton's father was "a twelve-pints-a-day man", and Burton himself started smoking aged eight and was drinking regularly aged 12. According to the landlord of the Miner's Arms, his local in his home town, Pontrhydyfen, Wales, "He would drink vodka and tonic, whiskey and soda, champagne. He would drink all day long.... a glass in his hand from the time that he rose till the time he passed out." Other than that? Vodka Martinis, Jack Daniel's and soda, Bordeaux, straight vodka. Early in his career, Burton boasted that he could drink half a gallon of cognac or vodka and still hold it together on stage: at Oxford he drank a yard of beer in 10 seconds. By 1974, his first attempt to dry out, he was drinking three bottles of vodka a day.
Any famous drinking buddies?
Apart from Taylor, no slouch herself in that department - she observed that her own capacity horrified her - Burton was good friends and drinking buddies with Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall adored him, and drank with him regularly. And Dylan Thomas, another talented Welshman, found plenty in common with him over beer - though Burton would later blame himself for Thomas's death, after he refused him a loan of £200, forcing Thomas to accept the reading tour of New York on which he died.
How did drink change his life?
In Burton's own words, "I'm just not civilized without a drink. I can knock off three or four bottles of vodka or whiskey. But I have to keep away from rum because then I fancied I could take on Muhammad Ali or George Foreman. Or, on a heavy day, both." Drink ruined his health; his liver was shot at fifty. His older brother, Ifor, was paralysed after a drinking binge with Burton, a disaster that left him wracked with guilt and, once his brother died, drinking more than ever.
Any drinking stories?
Burton and Taylor's fights were legendary - she once chased him round a hotel suite with a broken bottle of vodka. The bartender at Le Grand Hotel in Rome witnessed the pair come in, with Elizabeth carrying a huge bouquet of roses. He ordered a Martini - "Burton's Martini was extremely large" - while she drank champagne. Their conversation escalated to the point that she began to hit him with her roses. Burton held his Martini throughout, and did not spill a drop.