HELLRAISERS by Robert Sellers


The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed
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A British stand-up comedian turned journalist scrutinizes four celebrated, heavy-drinking actors.

Sellers’ blackly humorous biography chronicles the bawdy, outrageous reputations of “four of the greatest boozers that ever walked—or staggered—into a pub. It’s a “celebratory catalogue of their miscreant deeds” that thankfully incorporates notes of humor and revelation, since these conditions not only stalled their careers but cost them their livelihoods. Welsh actor Richard Burton, once one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, claimed apathy (and a stream of cinematic “drivel”) as his primary reason for drinking, that life offstage was too much of a sobering reversal to handle without alcohol. Irishman Richard Harris abused alcohol for most of his life while achieving fame in the film adaptation of Camelot (1967), then more recently as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. Despite winning major acclaim in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Peter O’Toole’s heavy drinking and public brawling sabotaged his career. After some resulting major surgery, his ability to garner film roles was stunted further. British actor Oliver Reed, the most notorious of the “hellraisers,” died amid a legendary drinking binge in Malta during the filming of Gladiator (1999). Sellers delivers decades of debauched history and insider Hollywood information on his subjects, from the “The Plastered Fifties” to “The Pickled Nineties.” Chain-smoking Burton was prone to rages and a voracious sexual appetite; Harris’ domineering personality and days-long drinking binges often trumped his notoriety; O’Toole, saddled with eccentricities and a failing marriage, befriended Burton in a union that Elizabeth Taylor quickly squashed; and Reed’s dour public image suffered even more after his penchant for “showing his cock in public” emerged. Of the four, only O’Toole endures, “the last surviving British reprobate” who “knows he’s been living on borrowed time for years, watching all his drinking pals from the 60s [sic] go under turf one by one.”

A snarky, muckraking, indulgent treat for film buffs.

Pub Date: Dec. 8th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-55399-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2009


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