Ravaged by arthritis and the residue of his alcoholism, Richard Burton at 58 worked on without complaint, running on willpower and his abiding love of life and language.
|Burton on the set of his last film, "1984."|
He had finished a seven-month run with his ex-wife Elizabeth Taylor in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” and turned in a much-applauded performance in the film “1984.” At home in Switzerland, he’d fallen off the wagon one night with his co-star and friend John Hurt, seemingly without doing much harm. The next evening he went to bed as usual, reading and jotting notes in red ink on a nearby pad. But he never woke up again.
Burton had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in the night. His fourth wife, Sally, had him rushed to the hospital in Geneva. They were operating, and she realized with horror that it was likely that Burton would end up in a wheelchair, unable to speak. A living death.
But the lover of language was spared that. He died, and Sally went in to see the body alone. “I remember quite clearly thinking — Well done! You’ve thrown off your old body. You’re on your next adventure. Well done!”
“I had a strong feeling that it was a tragedy for us but not for Richard,” she told biographer Melvyn Bragg. “That helped me through the next weeks. My feeling was that Richard had many lives in him, but not that of an old man.”
It was only days later, after the funeral, when Sally was at home alone tidying up that she noticed the pad beside Burton’s bed. The last words he had written there were, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… Our revels now are ended.”