Richard Burton: The Boy From Pontrhydyfen
Seen here as an RAF cadet, age 18; he was an undoubted genius who lived by his own rules.

Short Biography


  • "All I wanted to do was to live, pick up a new Jag, and act at the Old Vic."
  • "The only thing in life is language. Not love. Not anything else."

Born 10 November 1925, in Pontrydyfen, Wales; he was the twelfth of 13 children born to Edith and Richard Walter Jenkins. Richard Walter Jenkins, Jr. was adopted by his teacher Philip Burton actually, as Philip Burton was 20 days short of being 21 years older than the boy he wanted to adopt, a full adoption was not legally possible, but Burton was made his ward and Richard's surname was legally changed.

As a RAF cadet, he gained admission to Exeter College, Oxford to take the "University Short Course" for six months before commissioning in the RAF. He left Oxford in 1944 - as one of 12 prize winning cadets - and was commissioned as a navigator - his inadequate eyesight having disqualified him from being a pilot.

His first professional acting job was with Welsh playwright Emlyn Williams (on stage just before going to Oxford and into the RAF - and in Williams' film version of The Last Days of Dolwyn after the war.) Everyone who knew him - at school as a youngster, at Oxford, in the RAF - all agree that there was something "bigger than life" about Richard Burton. When that aura came across on stage or on film, it could be electrifying.

He was nominated for seven Academy Awards, which may still be the record for the most nominations without a single win. Those nominations were for Best Supporting Actor for My Cousin Rachel (1952); and Best Actor for The Robe (1953), Beckett (1964), The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Anne of the Thousand Days (1970), and Equus (1977). His scandalous affairs and his devil-may-care, independent attitude toward life caused his genuinely brilliant performances to be snubbed by the Academy. (In 1969, John Wayne came knocking on Burton's door - thrusting his Oscar for True Grit out, he told Burton "You should have this, not me.").

He died in 1984 from a brain hemorrhage in Switzerland (where he and his wife Sally made their home) just shortly after filming 1984, his last film.


Publicity Shot

A publicity shot.

At the beach

A candid shot.



  • Richard Burton:Very Close Up by John Cottrell and Fergus Cashin (1972: Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice-Hall, Inc.)
  • Richard Burton, A Life by Melvyn Bragg (1988: Boston; Little, Brown and Co.) - I like this one because it quotes extensively from Richard Burton's own journals.
  • Burton by Hollis Alpert (1986: Ontario; PaperJacks)
  • Richard Burton, My Brother by graham jenkins (1988: NY;St. Martin's Press)

Some of my favourite films:

With Liz in Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

With Clint in Where Eagles Dare
Where Eagles Dare
  • The Night of the Iguana (1964) - one of my all time faves, and I ususally don't care much for Tennessee Williams . . .
  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) - A wonderful adaptation of the John le Carrè novel which earned Burton an Oscar nomination.
  • Where Eagles Dare (1968) - Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood battling Nazies in Bavaria -- what's not to love??
  • The Taming of the Shrew (1967) - He and Liz are hilarious in this filmed version of Shakespeare's play!
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) - Based on the wonderfully warped play by Edward Albee, Burton was nominated for another Oscar -- and Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for this.
  • The Prince of Players (1954) - he plays Edwin Booth in this very nice, underrated film.
  • Look Back in Anger (1959) - a bitterly powerful performance.
  • Equus (1977) - Another twisted story brought over from the stage, but a powerful performance by Burton as the psychiatrist Martin Dysart which earned him another Academy Award nomination.
  • Breakthough (1979) - Any of his WWII pictures are worth watching, but this one is one of the best with Burton playing Sergeant Steiner.
  • 1984 (1984) - His last film -- well worth seeing, but not for the squeamish, as it is a faithful adaptation of the Orwell novel with Burton as O'Brien and John Hurt as Winston Smith.

He also made numerous audio recordings, as his wonderfully rich Welsh voice was perfect for poetic recitations. My favourite is the recording of John Donne's Love Poems, but of course, there is also the soundtrack recording of the Broadway production of Camelot, in which Burton portrayed King Arthur (a role which earned him a New York Critics Award in 1961, as well as a Tony in 62).
He also played "The Journalist" in the 1978 musical rendition of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds"

Push Push to hear one of his lines from "War of the Worlds."

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Last updated or checked June 2011