During World War II, he was admitted to Exeter College, Oxford to take the "University Short Course" for six months as a Royal Air Force cadet. While at Oxford in 1943-1944, he was a member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. Cadets were promised that they could return to Oxford to complete their education after the war, but he did not, instead becoming a professional actor after being demobilized in 1947. Almost thirty years later, he was invited back to Oxford to teach poetry to undergraduates for a semester.
Is reported to have lost his virginity in 1944 whilst attending Oxford University to a mature student.
Won the 1951 Theatre World Award for "The Lady's Not For Burning".
Following the release of The Robe (1953), his first Hollywood production, the critics would accuse Burton of being a wooden film actor, a charge that would stay with him throughout his career. It was not until The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) that critics would be unanimous in their praise of his performance, yet after an excellent five years his mastery of film technique had seemingly deserted him and much of his later work, such as Villain (1971) and Equus (1977), would be dismissed by many as overacting.
Won Broadway's 1961 Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical) for "Camelot" as well as a Special Award in 1976. He was also twice nominated for Tony Awards as Best Actor (Dramatic): for "Time Remembered" (1954) and for "Hamlet" (1964).
Had two daughters by his first wife, Sybil Williams. Actress Kate Burton (born 1957) and Jessica (born 1961), who was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and would eventually be institutionalized.
He refused to attend his father's funeral in 1957.
Was nominated for a 1958 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for "Time Remembered". Three years later he won a 1961 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for "Camelot", and three years after that, he was again nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his 1964 "Hamlet", which was directed by his mentor John Gielgud. Burton also received a Special Tony Award in 1976 after appearing as a replacement in "Equus". Like his friends Laurence Olivier and Peter O'Toole, Burton was an unique and utterly electrifying stage actor whom commanded the rapt attention of his audience.
Burton received the first retrospective of his work since his death during Bradford Film Festival 2002 - almost 18 years after his death on Sunday, August 5, 1984. Twelve films were screened, among them Look Back in Anger (1959), Becket (1964), Equus (1977) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), his final picture. The festival, which christened its Burton season Lion of the Welsh, also featured a strand on legendary unfinished films that included a clip of Burton in Laughter in the Dark (1969), a movie from which he was allegedly fired by director Tony Richardson. The picture, based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, was shut down and eventually made with Nicol Williamson in Burton's role.
In 1961 he won a Tony Award for playing King Arthur in the original production of Lerner & Loewe's (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe) Broadway musical "Camelot". When the film was in pre-production in the mid-1960s Burton turned down an attractive offer to reprise the role and Richard Harris was cast as The Once & Future King. Burton subsequently appeared in the 1980 Broadway revival of the musical, which played a total of 56 performances on the Great White Way before the production went on the road. During the road tour, Burton was replaced by Richard Harris as he was debilitated by crippling bursitis of the shoulder which eventually prevented him from handling a sword. Pain-killers did not help so he dropped out of the show and he was once again "replaced" by Richard Harris in the role.
Was the best man at Laurence Olivier's marriage to Joan Plowright in New York City on March 17, 1961. Both were appearing on Broadway at the time, he in "Camelot" and Laurence Olivier in "Becket".
According to Melvyn Bragg's biography (that was based on Burton's own diaries) in 1959, he turned down an offer of $350,000 (approximately $2.25 million in 2005 terms) to star as "Christ" in Nicholas Ray's remake of King of Kings (1961) due to superstition. A Welsh-Irish drunkard had read the palms of Burton and some friends, including Dylan Thomas, who were performing poetry on B.B.C. Radio's "Third Programme" and were waiting for show-time in a local pub. The drunk predicted the friends' deaths, which in the case of Dylan Thomas, was accurate. After two other friends died within their prescribed time frames, Burton (who had been told he would die at the age of 33) decided to take the year 1959 off so as not to tempt fate. Although he thought Nicholas Ray might make a good film and was keen to shoot on location in Spain, Burton, who already was a millionaire and did not need the money, turned the offer down. For the same reason, he also turned down the role played by Audie Murphy in John Huston's The Unforgiven (1960), which was shot in Durango, Mexico.
While starring as King Arthur in the musical "Camelot" in 1961, Burton told his co-star Julie Andrews that she was his only leading lady he had not slept with.
Since Elizabeth Taylor was unable to have children, she and Richard adopted a German girl as their daughter, legally naming her Maria Burton. She was born in Germany c. 1964 with a deformed jaw that was fixed while she was still a baby.
His 1964 performance of "Hamlet" is the longest run of the play in Broadway history with 137 performances. It broke the record held by John Gielgud, who played the part for 132 performances and who directed Burton's Broadway production.
He was a close friend of fellow Welsh actor Sir Stanley Baker from childhood, and provided the narration for Baker's epic film Zulu (1964).
Burton and Warren Mitchell were Royal Air Force cadets together at Oxford in 1944. Upon meeting Burton, Warren Mitchell, who was Jewish, was enraged by Burton's contention that Jews controlled London's commercial theatre. Warren Mitchell admonished him, saying they were fighting a war against that sort of thing. Though he first thought Burton was very anti-semitic (Burton later became renowned for being ANTI-anti-semitic, taking pride in the fact that one of his fore-bearers likely was Jewish; his second wife Elizabeth Taylor was a convert to Judaism, and his beloved step-daughter Liza Todd Burton, the natural daughter of Elizabeth Taylor and third husband Michael Todd, was Jewish), Warren Mitchell and Burton became friends after they got to know one another. In the years 1944-1947, when both were demobilized, they were stationed together at times in Canada and back in England. Later, they appeared together in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965).
He and Elizabeth Taylor starred together in 11 movies: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); The V.I.P.s (1963); Under Milk Wood (1972); The Taming of the Shrew (1967); The Sandpiper (1965); Hammersmith Is Out (1972); Doctor Faustus (1967); Divorce His - Divorce Hers (1973) (TV); The Comedians (1967); Cleopatra (1963) and Boom (1968).
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) ran over schedule, causing Burton to pull out of Robbery (1967), which instead went to Stanley Baker.
Was offered the role of Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (1966), but he turned the part down. Paul Scofield, who went on to win a Best Actor Oscar for his performance, was cast instead.
After his second wife Elizabeth Taylor's close friend Montgomery Clift died before shooting began on Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Burton briefly considered taking over the vacated role of the closeted homosexual Major Weldon Penderton that had been slated for Montgomery Clift. Though Burton would later play homosexual parts in Staircase (1969) and Villain (1971), it was thought that he would not be a good fit for the role of an American soldier. The part subsequently went to Marlon Brando, who gave what critics now believe was one of his greatest performances. Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor became friends, giving Burton a chance to socialize with America's greatest actor.
Marlon Brando became quite friendly with Burton's wife Elizabeth Taylor while shooting Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967). Marlon Brando agreed to pick up her Best Actress Award for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) from the New York Film Critics Circle. When Marlon Brando made his appearance at the NYFCC Award ceremony at Sardi's on January 29, 1967, he hectored the critics, querying them as to why they hadn't recognized Elizabeth Taylor before. He then flew to Dahomey, Africa where Elizabeth Taylor was shooting The Comedians (1967) with Burton to personally deliver the award, a development Burton thought odd. Later in the 1960s, Marlon Brando' socialised with the Burtons, visiting them on their famous yacht the Kalizma, while they plied the Mediterreanean. Marlon Brando's ex-wife Anna Kashfi, in her book "Brando for Breakfast" (1979), claimed that Marlon Brando and Burton got into a fist-fight aboard the yacht, probably over Elizabeth Taylor, but nothing of the incident appears in Burton's voluminous diaries. In his diaries, Burton found Marlon Brando to be quite intelligent but believed he suffered, like Elizabeth Taylor did, from becoming too famous too early in his life and believed their affinity for one another was based on this. (Both Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando would later befriend Michael Jackson, another superstar-cum-legend who had become too famous too soon.) Burton recognized Marlon Brando as a great actor, but felt he would have been more suited to silent films due to the deficiency in his voice (the famous "mumble"). As a silent film star, Burton believed Marlon Brando would have been the greatest motion picture actor ever.
In 1969, Richard Burton bought his second wife Elizabeth Taylor one of the world's largest diamonds from the jeweller Cartier after losing an auction for the 69-carat, pear-shaped stone to the jeweller, which was won with a $1 million bid. Aristotle Onassis also failed in his bid to win the diamond, which he intended to give his wife Jacqueline Kennedy. The rough diamond that would yield the prized stone weighed 244 carats and was found in 1966 at South Africa's Premier mine. Harry Winston cut and polished the diamond, which was put up for auction in 1969. Burton purchased the diamond from Cartier the next day for $1,069,000 (approximately $6 million in 2005 dollars) to give to Elizabeth Taylor. The small premium Cartier charged Burton was in recognition of the great publicity the jewellery garnered from selling the stone, which was dubbed the "Burton-Cartier Diamond", to the then-"world's most famous couple". Ten years later, the twice-divorced-from-Burton Elizabeth Taylor herself auctioned off the "Burton-Taylor Diamond" to fund a hospital in Botswana. The last recorded sale of the "Burton-Taylor Diamond" was in 1979 for nearly $3,000,000 to an anonymous buyer in Saudi Arabia. The ring was the centre of the classic "Here's Lucy" (1968) episode "Lucy Meets the Burtons" in 1970, in which Lucy Carter, played by Lucille Ball, gets the famous ring stuck on her finger. The actual ring was used and the episode was the highest rated episode of the very popular series.
According to Burton's diaries, when he and Elizabeth Taylor appeared on the "Here's Lucy" (1968) (episode: "Lucy Meets the Burtons"), he was appalled by the tedium of shooting the show. He found Lucille Ball's meticulous professionalism to be ludicrous as he felt it was out of place on a TV show. Lucy was entirely focused on making the show work, and Burton -- who thought it would be a lark -- didn't have any fun on the set. He was quite impressed by Ball's co-star Gale Gordon, but was dismayed that Lucy, personally, directed him to play his "part" -- which was himself, after all -- very broad so that he was shouting. When he did shout, she told him that he was finally playing comedy as it should be played. The episode featured Lucy meeting Burton, who was fleeing the press and hid in her office, and then Liz, and putting on Liz's 69-carat, pear-shaped stone diamond, which became stuck to her her finger.
Circa 1970, Burton's fellow Celt (and cinema superstar) Sean Connery, who had received excellent reviews for his portrayal of the doomed king in a 1960 Canadian television version of "Macbeth", hoped to launch a big-screen version of the Scottish play. Sean Connery's plans were foiled when Roman Polanski's version went into production for Hugh M. Hefner's Playboy Productions. Burton, who had won a reputation as the best "Hamlet" of his generation, was also interested in launching a film version of "Macbeth" at the same time. He had just had a great cinema success in the period piece Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), for which he won his sixth and penultimate Oscar nomination, and he told his friend Sir Laurence Olivier that he wanted to make a movie of "Macbeth" with himself as the eponymous king and his wife Elizabeth Taylor as Lady Macbeth. Burton's plans came to naught for the same reason as Sean Connery's did. A decade earlier, Sir Laurence Olivier - the greatest "Macbeth" of the 20th Century - had also failed to bring the play to the big screen. The future Lord Laurence Olivier had hoped to film his own version of the play in the late 1950s, but the failure of his movie Richard III (1955) to make back its money frustrated his plans. Producer Michael Todd, Elizabeth Taylor's third husband, told Laurence Olivier in 1958 that he likely would produce the film with Laurence Olivier as "Macbeth" and Laurence Olivier's real-life wife, Vivien Leigh, as his Lady, but that hope died in the plane crash that claimed Michael Todd's life. Thus, the famous "Macbeth" curse adversely affected three of the greatest actors of the 20th Century.
He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1970 Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to drama. He collected this award on his 45th birthday with his older sister Cis, who raised him as a child, and his wife Elizabeth Taylor.
Was famous for his high intelligence and for being incredibly well-read. Burton was widely admired for his command and understanding of English poetry, which he taught for a term at Oxford University in the early 1970s.
Producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted Burton to play Napoleon Bonaparte in Waterloo (1970/I), but the role went to Rod Steiger instead.
Was named "The Worst Actor of All Time" in Harry Medved and Michael Medved's 1980 book "The Golden Turkey Awards", beating out Victor Mature, John Agar, and Tony Curtis. In so naming Burton, the Medveds cited the preponderance of big-budget film flops he starred in, and the overall squandering of his acting potential for much of his career. Previously, Burton's The Assassination of Trotsky (1972) had been listed among "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time" in the 1978 book of the same name by Harry Medved and Randy Lowell.
Was at one point going to star in Follow Me! (1972) with Elizabeth Taylor.
He and his then wife Elizabeth Taylor were very close friends with the famous president of Yugoslavia (Serbia), Marshall Josip Broz Tito. They spent many vacations with him at his villa on the Yugoslavian Adriatic coast line as well as being a frequent guest at his mansion in Belgrade. He later played his close friend in the 1972 Yugoslavian film Sutjeska (1973) (The Fifth Offensive).
Met with Josip Broz Tito, whom he greatly admired, before starring in Sutjeska (1973).
Was actively pursued for the role of "The Pilot" in the proposed film of The Little Prince (1974). Burton had had a huge success on Broadway with Lerner & Lowe's (Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe) Camelot (1967), but had turned down that film as he did The Little Prince (1974). The role of "The Pilot" subsequently was played by Richard Kiley.
In November 1974, Burton was asked to write an article about Sir Winston Churchill for "The New York Times". Since Burton had just played the wartime leader in The Gathering Storm (1974) (TV), the newspaper expected a laudatory piece. Instead they were presented with a rant about Churchill the right-wing politician, whom Burton wrote, "to know him is to hate him".
His attack on Sir Winston Churchill in 1974 was widely thought to have been occasioned by the fact that he was, at the time, engaged to Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia - who was, of course, a princess in exile. She blamed Churchill and other western leaders for giving away her country to the Communists at the end of World War II. Burton's engagement to her was soon broken off, and in later years he played the Yugoslav Communist leader Tito.
Underwent treatment for alcoholism at a clinic in America after filming Klansman (1974).
Won a Grammy in the "Best Recording for Children" category for "The Little Prince" (featuring Jonathan Winters and Billy Simpson). 
Was a drinking partner of Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole until Peter O'Toole was forced to give up drinking after surgery in 1976.
His divorce from third wife Susan Hunt, whom he was married to from 1976 to 1982, entailed a settlement of $1 million (approximately $2 million in 2005 terms) and a house he owned in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (his first house in Puerto Vallarta was lost to second wife Elizabeth Taylor during his first divorce from her).
An article Burton wrote in memory of his longtime friend, Sir Stanley Baker, following the actor's death in June 1976, caused so much offence that Baker's widow, Lady Ellen Martin, considered suing Burton. However, shortly afterwards, she recalled standing near the tree where Baker's ashes had been scattered and hearing his voice saying, "You know what Rich is like when he's in his cups".
While playing Dr. Dysart in "Equus" on Broadway in 1976, Burton was so impressed by co-star Peter Firth that he offered to play the Friar with Firth as Romeo. Firth did play Romeo on stage, but Burton was not cast.
The producers of the film Equus (1977), who envisioned either Marlon Brando or Jack Nicholson in the role of the psychiatrist "Martin Dysart" in the film version, would only consider Burton for the role if he agreed to undertake a screen-test of sorts by playing the role on Broadway. Though considered one of the most brilliant theatre actors of his generation, Burton had not been on the professional stage in a dozen years (though he had appeared in an Oxford Undergradate Dramatic Society production of Doctor Faustus (which subsequently was filmed as Doctor Faustus (1967)) in 1966. Having suffered a slew of failures since 1970 that had undermined his bankability as a movie star, Burton agreed to take on the grueling role for a 12-week run. Though he was scheduled for his Broadway debut on a Sunday, he took over a Saturday matinée for the departing Anthony Perkins (who had received excellent notices after taking over for Anthony Hopkins, Burton's fellow Welshman who had grown up in his neighborhood in Wales and who had won a 1975 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Play for originating Dysart on Broadway). The film producers frankly were worried that Burton's alcoholism, which had nearly killed him during the production of Klansman (1974), had not only destroyed his powers as an actor but his stamina also. Their fears were borne out the first night when a nervous Burton stumbled during the matinée. However, by Sunday's show, with the vultures out to see a great actor brought low, Burton wowed the audience with a brilliant performance. Burton astounded theatre-goers and the critics, winning himself a Special Tony Award and the role in the film. (His run was extended another two weeks due to demand to see the legendary thespian and hell-raiser and easily could have gone on for many more weeks had Burton chosen to remain with the play.) Burton's career was recharged. The momentum of Burton's professional renaissance nearly brought him an Academy Award in 1978, but sadly, it was reckoned that the performance caught on film by director Sidney Lumet was only a pale shadow of the genius that had been on show on Broadway. (Ironically, this was the charge that had plagued Burton in his early career, that the talent, the genius, did not come through the lens to be caught on film. Burton himself said he did not learn to act on film until he co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963).) Reverting to his 1970s habit of poor film choices, such as Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and The Medusa Touch (1978) tarnished Burton's newly burnished lustre too and Richard Dreyfuss beat him for the Oscar in his seventh (and last) Oscar nomination. Although he worked steadily until his death, Burton's post-Equus (1977) career never gained any real traction and he never again was a bankable star.
In addition to being honored with a Special Tony Award in 1976 for his triumphant return to Broadway after 12 years in Equus (1977), he was nominated three times for a Tony, winning once, in 1961 for Best Actor in a Musical for "Camelot". His other nominations were in 1958 (for Best Actor in Play) for "Time Remembered" and in 1964 (for Best Actor in Play) for Hamlet (1964/I).
According to his long-time friend Brook Williams, the son of the man who had given Burton his first professional break Emlyn Williams, Burton turned down a role in The Sea Wolves: The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse in 1980, which reunited The Wild Geese (1978) director Andrew V. McLaglen, screenwriter Reginald Rose and co-star Roger Moore. The Wild Geese (1978) had been a big hit (Burton was always popular and a box office draw in military roles) and Andrew V. McLaglen had directed Burton's post-The Wild Geese (1978) film Steiner - Das Eiserne Kreuz, 2. Teil (1979), but Burton turned it down. Brook Williams believed that Burton's third wife, Susan Hunt, didn't want Burton away on a lark with his old friends (and drinking companions) as he was in frail health and battling alcoholism at the time.
In the last seven years of his life he constantly resisted offers to play Lear on stage, instead preferring to make films like Absolution (1978).
Frankly told the press that he appeared in the movies Steiner - Das Eiserne Kreuz, 2. Teil (1979), Circle of Two (1981) and Lovespell (1981) (generally considered by critics to be three of his worse films, all of them critical and box office disasters that eroded the reputation he had recently fought back to reclaim with his appearance on stage and screen in Equus (1977)) for the money. Burton, who had effectively been cleaned out financially by his two divorces from second wife Elizabeth Taylor, was paid $750,000 for each picture (approximately $2.25 million in 2005 terms). Conversely, he was willing to appear in Absolution (1978) at the same time for one-sixth his fee as he believed in the project very strongly.
Was a great fan of baseball, which he followed avidly when he was in America. Burton thought Pulitzer Prize-winning baseball columnist Red Smith was a brilliant writer. Burton played softball with a team from the Broadway theatre in the 1980s, despite crippling bursitis in his shoulder.
He was forced to drop out of the Los Angeles run of "Camelot" in 1981 due to crippling back pain, most likely caused by his chronic bursitis. Doctors at the hospital couldn't understand how he had managed to entertain live audiences night after night. At first they couldn't operate because Burton was three stone underweight, so he had to remain in bed to build up his strength. His backbone was rebuilt in a delicate operation that could easily have left him paralyzed for life if something had gone wrong. Burton called his friend Richard Harris to replace him as King Arthur, and then returned to his home in Switzerland to recover.
In 1981 he accepted a contract reported to be worth nearly $1 million over three years to use his voice in a series of commercials for an American magazine, "Geo".
His younger brother Graham Jenkins worked for the BBC and was responsible for getting Burton the job of narrating the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana for BBC Radio on 29 July 1981. There had been some concern that Burton would say something controversial, given his past attacks on Churchill. However, as it turned out he made only one mistake during the five hour broadcast.
After being forced to drop out of the touring production of "Camelot" in April 1981 in order to undergo major spinal surgery - during which his entire spinal column was found to be coated in crystallized alcohol - Burton contemplated retiring completely from acting, but later agreed to star in "Wagner" (1983).
Died shortly after the filming of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) was completed. He was in terrible health during filming from years of alcoholism and heavy smoking, and had to wear a neck brace during rehearsals.
Had to turn down the lead role of the British Consul in John Huston's adaptation of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano (1984) as he was appearing in a touring production of Noel Coward's "Private Lives" co-starring with Elizabeth Taylor. The role was subsequently played by Albert Finney, who won an Oscar nomination as Best Actor.
While filming Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), he suffered from a terrible pain in his neck and had to wear a neck brace during rehearsals. He had to wear heavy make up in the film, since the director felt he looked twenty years older than his age. He minimized his famous voice for the part of O'Brien, although he had great difficulty remembering the lines and would sometimes require nearly forty takes to get a scene right. The result was one of his most critically acclaimed performances, and well as his most underplayed.
He died on Sunday, August 5, 1984, less than a week before he was due to begin shooting Wild Geese II (1985), a sequel to his successful mercenary thriller The Wild Geese (1978), made in 1978. He was the only actor returning for the film and, as Colonel Allen Faulkner, would have led a team of crack mercenaries to spring aged Nazi Rudolf Hess from Spandau Prison in Berlin. Burton's death caused huge problems for producer Euan Lloyd, the man behind the original The Wild Geese (1978) and its follow-up, Wild Geese II (1985). With the rest of the cast (Scott Glenn, Barbara Carrera and Laurence Olivier (playing Hess)) in place, Euan Lloyd had just a handful of days to find a replacement for Burton. He selected British actor Edward Fox, who joined the cast as Alex Faulkner, Burton's brother. Burton's no-show in the film was explained by one character telling Edward Fox that they'd heard his famous warrior brother had died. The film was dedicated to Burton's memory.
At the time of his death in 1984, he was slated to reprise his role as Colonel Allen Faulkner in Wild Geese II (1985) and had signed on to star as the English journalist Thomas Fowler in a remake of Graham Greene's The Quiet American (1958). Wild Geese II (1985) went ahead with Edward Fox taking over his part (the film is dedicated to Burton), but the production of "The Quiet American" was canceled.
Planned on going back to the stage to appear in William Shakespeare's "Richard III" and "King Lear". His staging of "Richard III" would have been based on the ideas of his step-father, Philip Burton, to bring together all of William Shakespeare's dramatization of Richard, Duke of Glouster (later Richard III) from the "Henry VI" trilogy. Burton had planned on visiting his step-father in Florida in early 1985 to work on the project.
He once held the record with Peter O'Toole, he currently holds the record for the most Oscar acting nominations (7) without a single win. In 2007, that record was broken, when O'Toole was nominated and lost yet again, for the film "Venus".