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Richard Burton nearly drank himself to death on The Klansman set – ‘He couldn't stand up’

EntertainmentRichard Burton nearly drank himself to death on The Klansman set – ‘He couldn't stand up’


Back in 1974, Richard Burton starred in race drama The Klansman as a liberal landowner opposite Lee Marvin’s Southern sheriff in the aftermath of a rape in a town dominated by the Klu Klux Klan. Terence Young, best known for his work on James Bond movies, directed what would also be OJ Simpson’s acting debut. The shoot took place just outside Sacramento, California, where Burton and his wife Elizabeth Taylor rented a house during production in the weeks prior to their first divorce.

Burton found the town of Oroville “enchanting”, telling the press how it reminded him of his old valley in Wales.

Despite the pleasantries, the acting legend – who was approaching 50 – was in poor health, suffering from depression and sciatica.

Aside from smoking around 60 cigarettes a day, the star drank two or three litres of vodka a day to kill the pain of his mental and physical conditions.

As a result, he was essentially drunk the whole time he filmed the movie, which he later had no recollection of making it.

A lot of the time, Burton couldn’t even stand, so his part – for which he was paid $40,000 a week for 10 weeks plus box office profits – was shot seated or lying down.

You can even see in some scenes he’s slurring his words. Simpson later recalled: “There would be times when he couldn’t move.” But despite this, he “could change the meaning of a scene with just his voice. I studied that. We used to play a game: try to ignore Richard Burton when he’s talking. It’s impossible.”

Yet he wasn’t the only heavy boozer on set with co-star Marvin also often being inebriated.

In a 1977 interview, Burton said they bumped into each other at a party after making the movie but had no memory of working together on The Klansman.

Young called for a doctor and Burton was rushed to hospital with a temperature of 104 and both kidneys about to fail.

The actor was diagnosed with influenza and tracheobronchitis and remained in medical care there for six weeks.

During his treatment, he announced that he and Taylor would be getting divorced. The celebrity couple remarried a year later but split once again in 1976.

Burton died at just 58 from an intracerebral haemorrhage in 1984, having seen his health decline further in his later years, suffering from an enlarged liver, cirrhosis and kidney disease.



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