Days af­ter he died, she opened up his last let­ter with trem­bling hands: ’I still long to come home’

Two mar­riages, two di­vorces and a love riven by jeal­ousy and be­trayal un­til the very end

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can­cer. For 24 hours, she was ter­ri­fied.

When she got the re­port that the shadow on her lung was caused by old scar tis­sue from hav­ing had a mild case of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis as a child, she was ec­static.

That’s when Richard got down on one knee and pro­posed re­mar­riage. Of course, she ac­cepted. She later re­called: ‘We sent ev­ery­one out of the room, in­clud­ing the chil­dren, and we got stoned.’ All their old habits were wait­ing for them, which is what, per­haps, Richard had wanted to avoid. He went out that night and got drunk.

On Oc­to­ber 10, 1975, the Bur­tons re­mar­ried on the banks of the Chobe River i n Botswana. An African district com­mis­sioner from the Tswana tribe per­formed the 20minute cer­e­mony, in which they were asked if they ‘un­der­stood the con­se­quences of mar­riage’. There was per­haps no other cou­ple on earth who bet­ter un­der­stood those con­se­quences.

The cer­e­mony over, they piled into a wait­ing Range Rover and be­gan their sa­fari hon­ey­moon. El­iz­a­beth was ec­static. She wrote a lit­tle note to Richard: ‘Dear­est Hubs — How about that! You re­ally are my hus­band again, and I have news for thee, there bloody will be no more mar­riages — or di­vorces ei­ther.

‘We are stuck like chicken feath­ers to tar — for lovely al­ways. Do you re­alise we shall grow old to­gether, and I know the best is yet to be! Yours truly, Wife’

On Novem­ber 10, El­iz­a­beth threw Richard a 50th birth­day party in the Orchid Room of the Dorch­ester Ho­tel back in London. Bur­ton was the only one sip­ping min­eral wa­ter among the 250 guests.

But within weeks of their mar­riage, he would be­gin drink­ing again. Al­co­hol was the fuel that had al­ways pro­pelled his life with El­iz­a­beth, and un­less she stopped drink­ing, Richard could not stay sober.

The dif­fer­ence was, El­iz­a­beth could han­dle al­co­hol, but it was killing Richard.

Be­fore long, they were back to their fa­mil­iar pat­tern of fight­ing and mak­ing up.

When El­iz­a­beth went back into hos­pi­tal for re­cur­rent back and neck pain, she in­sisted that Richard stay with her.

This time, he didn’t want to. He felt pres­sured and ha­rangued, and, given his at­tempts to stay sober, t he pres­sure was be­com­ing un­bear­able.

In De­cem­ber, they re­turned to El­iz­a­beth’s chalet in Gs­taad for the Christ­mas hol­i­days. Chaf­ing un­der El­iz­a­beth’s pos­ses­sive­ness, Richard

Al­co­hol was the fuel that pro­pelled life with El­iz­a­beth

man­aged to slip away to the nearby ski slopes for a rare out­ing.

On the piste, he no­ticed a tall, stun­ning woman who took his breath away. She was a green-eyed, 27-year-old for­mer model named Suzy Hunt, who was in the process of di­vorc­ing the cel­e­brated For­mula One driver James Hunt. She was to­tally dif­fer­ent from the doe-eyed, raven-haired El­iz­a­beth and she struck Richard with all the force of a new be­gin­ning.

El­iz­a­beth didn’t know it yet, but Richard had just met his fu­ture.

By Jan­uary 1976, Richard and El­iz­a­beth were sleep­ing in sep­a­rate bed­rooms. Richard took on a new agent who man­aged to se­cure him the lead role in Equus — the new play by Peter Shaf­fer be­ing staged on Broad­way.

He left Gs­taad for New York and, un­be­known to El­iz­a­beth, Suzy Hunt was with him.

Richard had dis­cov­ered that Suzy, who had been ed­u­cated at a con­vent, was quite straight when it came to any kind of in­tox­i­cant.

The daugh­ter of a bri­gadier so­lic­i­tor used to the huge crowds that had cheered her ex-hus­band, she ap­peared up to the chal­lenge of tak­ing on this world-fa­mous ac­tor and re­mov­ing him from El­iz­a­beth’s in­flu­ence, and mak­ing sure he would never again drink him­self to the brink of death.

In­deed, the more time Richard spent with Suzy, the more he felt that she was the right woman for him, at the right time.

An­gered and hu­mil­i­ated by her hus­band’s de­par­ture, El­iz­a­beth briefly took up with a 37-year-old ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive from Malta named Peter Dar­manin, whom she had met in a dis­cotheque in Gs­taad.

She also made plans to sell the beau­ti­ful, $1 mil­lion, 25-carat pink di­a­mond ring that Richard had given to her to com­mem­o­rate their re­mar­riage. She in­tended to use the pro­ceeds to set up a hos­pi­tal in Botswana. But when she got word from

Richard that he wanted to see her, she be­came sud­denly hope­ful. ‘Please come. I need you,’ he told her. ‘ When?’ she asked. ‘ Now,’ he replied. Per­haps, for a third time, they would patch things up. Richard met Eli z abeth at Kennedy Air­port just be­fore pre­views for Equus were to be­gin. She was bun­dled up in a fur coat and wear­ing dark sun­glasses.

They were pho­tographed greet­ing each other with a big kiss, but she could tell right away that some­thing was not quite right. He seemed dis­tant and ten­ta­tive. Af­ter ar­riv­ing at his ho­tel, he told her that he wanted a divorce.

‘Why the hell did you have me come all the way here to tell me that?’ El­iz­a­beth wailed.

She then dis­cov­ered that Suzy Hunt had been with Richard all along. Al­though El­iz­a­beth at­tended his pre­view per­for­mance, where a big mob of fans were await­ing her, she left New York the next day.

Less than six months af­ter their wed­ding, their sec­ond mar­riage was over. When Bur­ton’s Equus opened on Fe­bru­ary 23, it was Suzy Hunt and not El­iz­a­beth sit­ting i n the au­di­ence, for what many would de­scribe as a the­atri­cal tri­umph. The au­di­ence adored Richard and gave him a stand­ing ova­tion; all his per­for­mances quickly sold out. Sud­denly, the sun was shin­ing on Richard Bur­ton again.

On that open­ing night, Suzy Hunt had gone to Richard’s dress­ing room to con­grat­u­late him and found a sur­prise await­ing her: a mes­sage from El­iz­a­beth.

Af­ter the pre­view per­for­mance, El­iz­a­beth had gone to con­grat­u­late Richard. When she had found his dress­ing room empty, she’d taken an eye­brow pen­cil out of her hand­bag and had writ­ten on his mir­ror: ‘You were fan­tas­tic, love.’ How long had that mes­sage from El­iz­a­beth been there? And why hadn’t Bur­ton wiped it off? For the f i rst time, Suzy re­alised that El­iz­a­beth would re­main a force to be reck­oned with and, in some way, would al­ways re­main a part of Richard’s life.

El­iz­a­beth and Richard di­vorced for the sec­ond and fi­nal time in July 1976. Richard wed Suzy three weeks later.

Through­out their six-year mar­riage, he man­aged to stay mostly sober. Mean­while, El­iz­a­beth mar­ried a wealthy Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, John Warner, who, with her help, was elected to the U. S. Se­nate. They di­vorced af­ter four years.

In late 1981, ru­mours of a pos­si­ble Tay­lor-Bur­ton re­union be­gan fly­ing around af­ter El­iz­a­beth came to London to star in the play The Lit­tle Foxes, and Richard ar­rived in the cap­i­tal for a read­ing of Dylan Thomas’s Un­der Milk Wood.

In Fe­bru­ary 1982, El­iz­a­beth cel­e­brated her 50th birth­day with a gala cel­e­bra­tion at Leg­ends night­club — ar­riv­ing arm in arm with her for­mer hus­band. That night, the two of them danced to­gether and billed and cooed.

Richard drove her back in his Daim­ler to her rented town­house at 22 Cheyne Walk, Kens­ing­ton.

She in­vited him in­side and they talked to­gether, as they had over the pre­vi­ous four years over the phone, about their chil­dren:

Their adopted daugh­ter Maria, who had grown up to be tall, coltish, and beau­ti­ful; their grand­chil­dren — on her side, not yet on his.

And bril­liant, bilin­gual daugh­ter Kate, who had grad­u­ated Brown Uni­ver­sity with a de­gree in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, but who de­cided to go into the fam­ily busi­ness, af­ter all. And the be­guil­ing, bois­ter­ous Wild­ing broth­ers, Michael and Christo­pher, who fi­nally seemed to be find­ing their way, to Bur­ton’s great re­lief.

The fol­low­ing night, Richard re­vis­ited his favourite ra­dio play Un­der Milk Wood at a pub­lic read­ing at the Duke of York’s The­atre to raise funds for a me­mo­rial stone for Dylan Thomas in West­min­ster Abbey’s Po­ets’ Corner.

While he was recit­ing to a rapt au­di­ence, El­iz­a­beth qui­etly en­tered the the­atre and slipped on to the stage, stand­ing be­hind him.

The au­di­ence was thrilled at the sight of her and Bur­ton won­dered what the ex­cite­ment was all about. She then whis­pered to Richard, in per­fect Welsh: ‘I love you.’

‘Say it again, once more, my petal. Say it louder,’ Bur­ton an­swered. El­iz­a­beth, now ad­dress­ing the au­di­ence, re­peated the words: ‘ Rwy’n dy garu di.’ It brought down the house.

Af­ter­wards, Richard took El­iz­a­beth to din­ner at the Gar­rick Club. The liv­er­ied wait­ers served Jack Daniel’s whiskey on the rocks to El­iz­a­beth and poured two dou­ble vod­kas for Richard. He then drove her home — and this time he stayed the night.

Within weeks, El­iz­a­beth had talked Richard into work­ing with her in a stage pro­duc­tion of Noel Coward’s Pri­vate Lives. The re­hearsals started well, but in his diary Richard recorded his frus­tra­tions. ‘E... drink­ing. Also, has not yet read the play! That’s my girl! This is go­ing to be a long seven months.’

When the play opened, the re­views were the worst ei­ther of them had ever re­ceived. One night, they both drank heav­ily and the fol­low­ing day El­iz­a­beth failed to show up. Richard was forced to ap­pear on stage with an un­der­study and, fu­ri­ous, he aban­doned El­iz­a­beth for his 34-year-old Aus­tralian as­sis­tant Sally Hay.

Richard and Sally were mar­ried in July 1983. A year later, they were at Richard’s home i n Celigny, Switzer­land, when the ac­tor John Hurt, who was work­ing in Geneva, came for din­ner and to stay in their guest cot­tage.

Hurt re­mem­bers think­ing that Richard was still in the grip of an ob­ses­sion with El­iz­a­beth and that it would never be over.

Dur­ing their con­ver­sa­tion, Bur­ton whis­pered to his friend, sotto voce so that Sally wouldn’t over­hear: ‘She still fas­ci­nates, you know.’

Al­though Richard had been sober for a long time, he and Hurt later went out drink­ing. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, Au­gust 4, 1984, Sally drove Hurt back to Geneva. When she re­turned, Richard was com­plain­ing of an ex­cru­ci­at­ing headache. He took some aspirin and went to bed around 10pm. When he woke in the morn­ing, Sally found him breath­ing with dif­fi­culty. She had him rushed to hos­pi­tal, where doc­tors worked fu­ri­ously to try to save him, but he died on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble. At the age of 58, he had suf­fered a mas­sive cere­bral haem­or­rhage.

El­iz­a­beth did not at­tend Richard’s fu­neral — Sally re­fused to in­vite her, for fear that her pres­ence would turn the event into a me­dia cir­cus. But a few days af­ter his death, a let­ter ar­rived at El­iz­a­beth’s Bel Air home.

Richard had writ­ten it in his study at Celigny, sur­rounded by his beloved books. It was post­marked Au­gust 2. El­iz­a­beth opened it with a trem­bling hand and wept as she read his fa­mil­iar hand­writ­ing.

In the let­ter, Bur­ton said he was hap­pi­est when he was with her and that he wanted to ‘come home’. He wrote that no one else could know what their lives had been to­gether and asked if it was pos­si­ble there could be an­other chance for them.

It was his fi­nal love let­ter to her — and as she ab­sorbed his words, she could hear his voice loud and clear.

She’s kept that let­ter at her bed­side ever since.

Abridged ex­tract from Fu­ri­ous Love: El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor And Richard Bur­ton And The Mar­riage Of The Cen­tury by Sam Kash­ner and Nancy Schoenberger, to be pub­lished by JR Books on July 1 at £20. © 2010, Sam Kash­ner and Nancy Schoenberger. To pre-or­der a copy for £16.99 (p&p free), call 0845 155 0720.

Pas­sion­ate love: Richard and El­iz­a­beth in Gs­taad, Switzer­land, in 1966

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