British actor, who died an alcoholic in Switzerland, after a highly publicized and successful career on stage and screen.
Born in Pontrhydfen, South Wales, Burton, a miner's son, adopted the name of one of his schoolmasters, who guided his acting career, helping him to lose his Welsh accent and to develop his full rich voice. He attended Exeter College, Oxford, and began his career in Druid's Rest (1943). After serving with the RAF (1944–47) he returned to the stage, receiving critical praise for The Lady's Not for Burning (1949). His performance as Prince Hal in Henry IV (Stratford, 1951) brought further acclaim and he became the leading member of a new generation of outstanding actors. He had, however, by then made his first film, The Last Days of Dolwyn (1948); despite successful seasons with the Old Vic during the 1950s, films and Hollywood proved the greater attraction.
My Cousin Rachel (1952), his first American film, brought him an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. He was nominated as Best Actor for The Robe (1953), Becket (1964), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), and Anne of a Thousand Days (1970) although he never actually received an Oscar. Perhaps the best-known of his British films were John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1959), Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood (1971), and Peter Shaffer's Equus (1977).
Burton's private life received enormous publicity. He made several films with the most famous of his four wives, Elizabeth Taylor (to whom he was married twice; 1964–70, 1975–76), including the extravagant Cleopatra (1962), and starred with her in his last stage appearance, Private Lives (1983).