Richard Burton was a great fan of Dylan Thomas. They were friends and drinking buddies (although there is no doubt that Burton was twice the drinker than Dylan would ever be). He was even buried with a copy of Thomas’ Collected Poems on his chest at only 58 years old.
Alcohol was always a significant problem for Richard Burton. He claimed to have been drinking heavily at the age of 12 — and by his 40’s, he incurred an enlarged kidney.
He used Antabuse to try to stop his excessive drinking, which he blamed for wrecking his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor. Burton himself said of the time leading up to his near loss of life, “I was fairly sloshed for five years. I was up there with John Barrymore and Robert Newton. The ghosts of them were looking over my shoulder.”
In 1968, his older brother, Ifor, slipped and fell, breaking his neck, after a lengthy drinking session with Burton. The injury left him paralysed from the neck down. His younger brother Graham Jenkins opined it may have been guilt over this that caused Burton to start drinking very heavily, particularly after Ifor died in 1973.
Ifor’s death triggered Burton’s relapse into alcoholism, resulting in his own near-death experience by alcohol poisoning. After drinking himself nearly to death, Burton spent six weeks in Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Watch Burton discuss the ravages of alcoholism with Dick Cavett in July of 1980 (soon after, in April 1981, Burton was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and kidney disease).