Heroic, lyric, epic life of Richard Burton, Welsh prince of players, with Button's inner man singing like a bell on every...

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RICHARD BURTON: A Life

Heroic, lyric, epic life of Richard Burton, Welsh prince of players, with Button's inner man singing like a bell on every page. Bragg has had not only the phenomenal good fortune of having doors opened everywhere in researching his biography, but also access to Button's private journals, which total some 350,000 words. The journals are the musings of a gifted mind in the small hours of the night: his utterly honest view of people around him, of himself, his drinking and his work, and of the books he's reading. Burton was tremendously well-read and widely cultured, with a side to him never seen or known by the public. He forever tells his journal that he wants to quit acting and become a writer (he published ten articles over a 20-year period), and especially to write his autobiography (for which the journal must have been a storehouse of notes). Bragg quotes lavishly from Burton and achieves a unique, rich, warm, deeply moving, and full-bodied likeness of his subject. That Burton also conducted perhaps the great love affair of the century, playing real-life Antony to Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, is icing on the cake. Much of the journal records the small beer of daily life in his decade with Elizabeth, graphically spells out her illnesses and operations, shows his great care for her when she was bedridden, groans over their paralyzing bouts with alcohol. He writes less about his films than one hopes and always strives to avoid seeing them, thinks only a handful are ""watchable""--but not by himself. Meanwhile, his guilt runs deep for leaving his second wife Sybil--as well as his daughters Kate and the autistic, schizophrenic Jessica--to live with Elizabeth. While he and Elizabeth are in Rome filming Cleopatra, their love affair still unadmitted to the press, he breaks down after a day's filming, and, fed up with discretion, says to her, ""Fuck it, let's go out to fucking Alfredo's and have some fucking fettucini."" Says Bragg: ""The paparazzi went ape."" Bragg does well also with Burton's sad, dark center--a terrible and physically painful melancholy that can switch into roaring good humor. Classic--and an absolutely smashing read.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1988