Burton, born Richard Walter Jenkins, born on 10-11-1925 in Pontrhydufen, Wales,
was the twelfths of thirteen children, from the Welsh miner Dic Jenkins (nicknamed “Dic Bach”, “little Dic”) and Edith Thomas. They lived in the mining village of Pontrhydyfen, close to the steel port town of Port Talbot in South Wales. Two years after Richard’s birth, mother Edith died of maternity fever after the birth of Richard’s youngest brother Graham. Dic Bach, a hard worker and heavy drinker, transferred the upbringing of young Richard from that moment on to his twenty-year-old sister Cecilia, «Cis», and from that moment on did not look after him anymore. In his adolescence, Richard Jenkins starred in a high school performance adapted from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. There he caught the attention of Philip H. Burton, a teacher at Port Talbot Secondary School, who saw in Richard what he himself secretly wanted to become: an actor. Philip Burton, a great theater fan who lived the secluded life of a bachelor, took Richard Jenkins in his house, 20 years his junior, taught him games, read Shakespeare, Eliot and Dylan Thomas with him, helped him get rid of his Welsh accent and paid ultimately also the cost of his living. Such an arrangement may seem suspicious now, but at that time and under the conditions of extreme poverty in Port Talbot, it was certainly not uncommon. Cis Jenkins was already glad that there was one less mouth to feed at home, father Dic Bach did not care – in the rare moments when he was sober – and young Richard saw a path open to academic study and drama training, something he normally didn’t have to worry about as a miner’s son. On December 17, 1943, one month after his eighteenth birthday, Richard Jenkins was adopted by his teacher Philip Burton. From then on his name was officially Richard Burton. He worked for the local wartime Co-operative committee, handing out supplies in exchange for coupons, but then considered other professions for his future, including boxing, religion and singing. When Burton joined the Port Talbot Squadron of the Air Training Corps, as a cadet, he re-encountered Philip Burton, his former teacher, who was the commander. Burton was allowed into Exeter College, Oxford for a special term of six months study, made possible because he was an air force cadet obligated to later military service. He subsequently did serve in the RAF (1944–1947) as a navigator. Burton was discharged from the RAF on 16-12-1947 Burton’s eyesight was too poor for him to be considered pilot material. He became a famous actor after the war and played in several war movies like, Where Eagles Dare. Burton was addicted to alcohol and had insomnia. He was married twice to Elizabeth Taylor. He made his best films with her, such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? after the play of the same name by Edward Albee. Later, Burton married Suzy Hunt , James Hunt’s ex-wife, and finally Sally Hay, a makeup artist who later became a writer. Burton had two daughters and adopted two as well. One of his daughters is Kate Burton.
Death and burial ground of Burton, born Richard Walter Jenkins, Richard.
The biography of Burton provides a detailed description of the many health issues that plagued Burton throughout his life. In his youth Burton was a star athlete and well known for his athletic abilities and strength. By the age of 41 he had declined so far in health that his arms were by his own admission thin and weak. He suffered from bursitis, possibly aggravated by faulty treatment, arthritis, dermatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and kidneys, as well as displaying, by his mid-forties, signs of advanced senescence such as a pronounced limp. How much of this was due to his intake of alcohol is impossible to ascertain, according to Bragg, because of Burton’s reluctance to be treated for alcohol addiction; however, in 1974, Burton spent six weeks in a clinic to recuperate from a period during which he had been drinking three bottles of vodka a day. He was also a regular smoker with intake of between three and five packs a day for most of his adult life. While on vacation in 1984 at his home in Céligny, Burton was unwell. He died the same day at the age of 58 in a hospital in Geneva from a cerebral haemorrhage.
Although his death was sudden, his health had been declining for several years and he suffered from a constant and severe pain in the neck. He had been warned that his liver was enlarged as early as March 1970 and had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and kidneys in April 1981. Burton was buried in a red suit, a tribute to his Welsh roots on the cemetery of Celgny, Vaud in Swiss.