There are fiery romances that capture the public’s attention and then there are Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton where the sparks are on a whole other level. The flames that ignited between this duo were so strong, I’m surprised they didn’t burn the pages of the tabloid magazines that followed their story for years. Remember Bennifer? Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez? These two were Bennifer times 100. Their love story was filled with alcohol, fights, lust, and an extravagant lifestyle of jewels, yachts, and jets.
Taylor and Burton met on the set of Cleopatra in 1963 and began a tumultuous affair. Taylor had been one of Hollywood’s most glamorous movie stars for years, starting out as a child actress at MGM. Burton was England’s hottest actor, known as the “Welsh Brando” at the time. Taylor once said their passion was undeniable and that they couldn’t get enough of one another. Hollywood legend claims their first on-screen kiss lasted so long that director Joseph L. Mankiewicz asked permission to say cut. Word of the affair became an international story. Even the Vatican took notice. He denounced them as “erotic vagrancy” but these two were so caught up with each other to notice.
At the time the two were making the infamously bloated mess of ‘Cleopatra’, the two were married to other people. Taylor to Eddie Fisher (depending on how you want to read it, Liz took Eddie from Debbie Reynolds or Eddie left Debbie Reynolds for Liz) and Burton was married to Welsh actress/theater director Sybil Williams. Each of them left their partners and just nine days after Taylor’s divorce was finalized, they married in a low key ceremony in 1964.
This union was as intense and lavish as Cleopatra providing the gossip rags with endless juicy tales. It was marred with Burton’s adultery and their dependencies on alcohol (Burton) and pills (Taylor) with breakups and
expensive makeups. Burton spoiled Taylor with over-the-top jewels including a 69.42 carat-diamond he purchased for $1.1 million. It was the highest price paid for a diamond to that date. It was apparently even too big for Taylor herself so Cartier resized it. She wore it to the 1970 Academy Awards.
As messy as the relationship was so were their films, well some of them. The duo made 12 films together. The most celebrated are Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf and an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew but the rest are often dismissed as stinkers including the creme de la creme of so bad it’s good, Boom!.
Taylor and Burton were married for ten years before the two called it quits divorcing in 1974. But it wasn’t too long before trying it out again. Less than a year later, the two met to discuss finances and then decided to get married again. It only lasted a mere seven weeks as their old habits got the best of them. Burton married the women he had an affair with during Burton-Taylor 2.0 three weeks after his divorce from Liz. That lasted for six years and he remarried again. Liz would go on to find love with politician John Warner and then she’d find love again with construction worker Larry Fortensky. But it never felt like these two ever stopped loving each other despite new partners.
Before his death, Burton reportedly told a friend, ‘she still fascinates, you know’. In 2002, Taylor told Barbara Walters “I think we loved almost too hard, I think you become so much in the other person’s pocket, in their mind, in their soul, that you begin to lose your own identity. Thank god, I had it.”