Elizabeth and Richard: Til’ the Wheels Fall Off
No relationship is perfect; Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s was certainly no exception. What made their connection so evocative was their acceptance of each other, and more importantly, their distinct brand of love. Amid the jewels, scandals, and screaming matches, Elizabeth and Richard shared a love that was as passionate as it was tumultuous. Elizabeth was known to live her life with a fervor that remains unmatched, therefore we can expect no less from her and the man she considered one of her two greatest loves.
Like all great love stories, this one began with apathy. The first time they saw each other, Richard was enamored with Elizabeth’s unquestionable beauty. “She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud,” he wrote in his diary. “She was, in short, too bloody much.” Elizabeth on the other hand had no intention of returning the sentiment until their fates crossed again nine years later on the set of Cleopatra. Still determined not to be another notch in the Welsh upstart actor’s belt, Elizabeth wasn’t impressed by his faulty attempts at flattery. However, on the first day of shooting she found herself endeared to a hungover Richard.
Their sizzling chemistry on camera wasn't just acting. They shared their first kiss on film, continuing the moment even after the director called "cut." Sparks flew, spouses were forgotten, and later that day, Richard dragged Elizabeth’s chair next to his, where it would remain for thirteen years. The affair that began behind the scenes of Cleopatra soon took over the world. Their extravagant spending, epic battles, and obsessive relationship caused a splash that would follow the couple for the entirety of their time together and beyond.
The Burtons were notorious for their performative fights in both private and public. “Richard loses his temper with true enjoyment. It’s beautiful to watch,” Taylor once said. “Our fights are delightful screaming matches, and Richard is rather like a small atom bomb going off.” What were once exhilarating vocal exercises quickly became brutal confrontations heightened by alcohol and jealousy. Elizabeth’s struggle with addiction mixed with Richard’s alcoholism and infidelity eventually took its toll on the iconic couple. In 1974 they divorced, only to remarry in 1975 and divorce again less than a year later.
“I don’t want to be that much in love ever again.… I gave everything away…my soul, my being, everything,” Elizabeth said.
They would remain in contact throughout the years, never quite able to leave each other alone. Dramatic as it was, they shared a love that was deep and fierce; the kind that can be beautiful even in its destruction.