BURTON, Richard (1925-1984)
Plaque erected in 2011 by English Heritage at 6 Lyndhurst Road, Hampstead, London NW3 5PX, London Borough of Camden
Theatre and Film
RICHARD BURTON 1925-1984 Actor lived here 1949-1956
Richard Burton rose to international stardom while living at 6 Lyndhurst Road in Hampstead, where he is now commemorated with a blue plaque. He shared the home with his first wife Sybil Williams in 1949–56, but later entered into a stormy relationship with actress Elizabeth Taylor, causing a media sensation in the 1960s.
The son of a Welsh miner and one of 13 children, Burton made his stage debut in 1943 before training with the RAF for four years. After being demobilised, Burton moved to London, which he later described as his favourite city. There he made his screen debut in The Last Days of Dolwyn (1948) and critics praised Burton for his ‘acting fire, manly bearing, and good looks’. During filming, he met and fell in love with the Welsh actress Sybil Williams. The couple were married the following year and had two daughters, Kate and Jessica.
They moved into 6 Lyndhurst Road in 1949 and stayed there until 1956, during which time Burton rose to fame as a Shakespearean actor at the Old Vic, and later as a Hollywood star. His big screen debut was with My Cousin Rachel (1952), and his performance earned him the first of seven Academy Award nominations. It was also while living at number 6 that Burton made the renowned radio recording of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood (1954). After the close of his Old Vic season in 1956, Burton left London and settled in Switzerland.
In 1961, Burton flew to Rome to make the film that would change his life: Cleopatra (1963). His affair with his co-star, Elizabeth Taylor, ultimately led to their respective divorces and, in March 1964, to their marriage. Their tempestuous relationship attracted an overwhelming amount of public attention and they were attended by an entourage wherever they went.
The 1960s proved a golden decade for Burton, who starred in films including The Night of the Iguana (1964), The Spy who Came in from the Cold (1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966; co-starring Elizabeth Taylor) and Where Eagles Dare (1969). In 1964, he enjoyed enormous success playing Hamlet in New York, in a production directed by John Gielgud. It was to be his last major stage performance until Equus in 1976.
After 1970, Burton experienced something of a decline, both personally and professionally. His marriage with Taylor ended in 1974 and although the couple remarried a year later, they divorced again in 1976. He continued to make films during this period, including Bluebeard (1972), The Wild Geese (1978) and the epic Wagner (1983). It was on the set of Wagner that he met Sally Hay who was working as a freelance production assistant. They married in 1983, the same year Burton made his last stage appearance, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, in a Broadway production of Noël Coward’s Private Lives. His last performance was in a film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. In August of that year, Burton died suddenly in Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 58.