They were the couple that defined Hollywood excess. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the ultimate power couple, with their legendary romance captivating audiences around the world. But behind the glitz and glamor, their marriage was plagued with turmoil, scandal, and a love so intense that it threatened to destroy them both.
Their love story began in 1962, on the set of the epic film Cleopatra. Burton was a Welsh upstart actor, while Taylor was already a seasoned movie star at 21. According to the definitive book about their relationship, Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, written by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, Taylor found Burton “swaggering and vulgar,” and chose to ignore him. But on the first day of shooting together, Taylor found herself endeared to a painfully hungover Burton, and sparks began to fly.
Their obsessive affair, dubbed “le scandale” by Burton, soon consumed their respective marriages, the Roman set of Cleopatra, and the world. The couple’s fights were legendary, with Burton once saying, “We will often pitch a battle purely for the exercise. I will accuse her of being ugly, she will accuse me of being a talentless son of a bitch, and this sort of frightens people…. I love arguing with Elizabeth, except when she is in the nude.”
Their extravagant spending also shocked even the most jaded oligarch. Burton, who used a $1.25 million check as a bookmark, once bought a $960,000 jet plane on a whim, after they flew on it to Paris. The couple also owned paintings by Monet, Picasso, and Rembrandt, and were notorious for their lavish spending on jewelry. Taylor had an insatiable desire for jewels, and Burton famously said, “I introduced Elizabeth to beer; she introduced me to Bulgari.”
But their love was not to last. Taylor’s addiction to pills, Burton’s late-stage alcoholism, and his affair with actor Nathalie Delon eventually tore them apart. They were divorced in 1974, only to remarry in 1975 and divorce again less than a year later. Despite their tumultuous relationship, they remained in contact, and frequently reunited—tied together by their past, their children, and Burton’s prolific, passionate letters.
Their love story was too big for Hollywood, too scandalous for the tabloids, and too intense for the two of them to handle. But it will always be remembered as one of the greatest romances in Hollywood history.