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.
Some of my favourite films:
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"
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