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Elizabeth Taylor: last act in Richard Burton love story

23 March 11 14:15
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra

The death of screen icon Dame Elizabeth Taylor is the final act in a love story with the Welsh actor Richard Burton that captivated Hollywood and the world.

The actress inspired a global media frenzy when news first leaked of her new romance.

It was an affair played out in the public eye, from when the miner's son from Pontrhydyfen, near Port Talbot, met the London-born art dealer's daughter on the set of the 1962 film Cleopatra.

The movie was the world's most expensive film to date at that point, and was to change Burton's professional and personal life forever.

In the film he played Mark Anthony opposite screen legend Elizabeth Taylor who played the Egyptian Queen.

Their on-screen relationship soon flourished off-screen, and it became one that was both tempestuous and very public.

They were denounced by the Vatican at the time news of their union broke as both were still married to other partners.

Burton divorced his first wife and married Taylor in 1964, later adopting a child, Maria.

But subsequently the high-profile couple would in turn be divorced only to re-marry in a remote Botswana village.

Their reunion lasted just five months and they divorced again in 1976.

But they loved each other to the end and, when Burton died in 1984 aged 58, Taylor was inconsolable.

Explaining why they could not stay together, Taylor once said: "Maybe we loved each other too much."

She also said she wanted to be buried with him when she died. His widow, Sally, was not amused.

Recalling meeting Burton for the first time, Taylor said: "The first day we worked together he had a hangover and was looking so vulnerable.

"He was trying to drink a cup of coffee and his hand was shaking, so I held the cup to his lips.

"Our eyes locked and he drank the whole cup and we just kept looking at each other."

Burton said: "She was the most sullen, uncommunicative and beautiful woman I have ever seen."

The two superstars, arguably Hollywood's most famous couple, memorably starred opposite each other in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming of The Shrew.

They were also in a film version of Welsh playwright Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood in which the Pembrokeshire town of Fishguard was used as the fictional village of Llareggub.

Burton biographer Paul Ferris has described how the love affair immediately captured the public imagination.

"It's got the ingredients of two people who found one another, who met in romantic circumstances on the film set of Cleopatra, and then had an affair that causes a lot of suffering to other people," he said.

"It was high profile, they were both high-profile people, so the media gave them a lot of attention.

"I can think of love stories more interesting than that but they were people with reputations and it happened in a public sort of way."

Burton extravagantly indulged her love of diamonds and spent fortunes on rings, necklaces and other jewellery.

When they were married Taylor said: "If Richard and I divorce, I swear I will never marry anyone again. I love him insanely."

But after came bitter, violent rows and following their remarriage the couple conceded they found life together impossible.

Speaking later about that divorce, in July 1976, Taylor said: "We had a good marriage. Something went wrong, but we're still good friends. I know I did everything in my power to make the marriage work.

Media circus

"It seemed that our kind of love was not conducive to carrying on a long affair. It turned into the kind of love that spells marriage."

Burton explained: "Elizabeth and I lived on the edge of an exciting volcano. I'm not easy to be married to or live with. I exploded violently about twice a year with Elizabeth. She would also explode. It was marvellous. But it could be murder."

The actor died from a brain haemorrhage in August 1984 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Taylor was asked to stay away from the funeral because Burton's family feared her presence would create a media circus.

But among the sea of floral tributes at the chapel in the Swiss village of Celigny a single red rose stood out.

In April last year Taylor said she was delighted at the decision to name a new theatre at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff after Burton.

She said: "Richard would have been so deeply touched by this great honour, as am I."

In February 2005 she agreed to help raise funds in the United States for the multimillion-pound theatre, after being approached by the late Welsh actor's brother, Graham Jenkins.

At the time the college said it had received considerable support from the actor's family and friends and was determined to ensure that Richard Burton had a living tribute in his homeland.

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