If the famous Hollywood silver screen ever mirrored real-life, it did so back in 1963 with the premiere of “Cleopatra,” the story of the tempestuous romance between the Queen of Egypt (Elizabeth Taylor) and Mark Antony (Richard Burton) – one of the greatest love affairs in cinematic history, both on-screen and back here in the real world.
Cleopatra, easily the most expensive film made up to that point (it nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox before it ever got to the screen), was Hollywood’s interpretation of the Shakespeare romantic tragedy play, “Antony and Cleopatra.” However, even the famous bard would have had a little difficulty writing the dramatic, yet still deeply romantic tragedy of the epic film’s stars – Taylor and Burton.
However, it was a romance constantly tempered by Burton’s endless and chronic alcoholism. In the film quote below, as the character of Mark Antony, he is talking about his unmatched love for Cleopatra. If you re-read the quote and think about it in the context of Burton’s real-life alcoholism, it still applies and makes sense – possibly, even more so.
“For so long now you have filled my life…like…like a
great noise that I hear everywhere in my heart.
I want to be free of you. Of wanting you. Of being afraid.”
– Richard Burton, British actor and notorious alcoholic
(playing Mark Antony, Roman politician and general, in the 1963 Oscar-winning “Cleopatra”)
The Link Between Alcoholism & Divorce
If you get married in the U.S., your chance of a divorce, at some point in your future, is around 30%. However, if one of the two loved ones has an alcohol use disorder (AUD) – alcoholism, in other words – the chances of divorce rise up to pretty much the toss of a coin – 50%. Yes, half of all marriages with one alcoholic partner will end up… ending.
In fact, alcoholism (even heavy alcohol consumption) is the most prevalent form of substance abuse in failing marriages that end up as divorce.
Alcoholism, being one of the most sinister diseases of all, doesn’t stop there. According to an in-depth study reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2017, the chance of you becoming an alcoholic – importantly, having had no previous signs of abuse – will rise steeply too, once the divorce papers are signed, sealed and delivered to your new doorstep. If, that is, you have lost the marital home (and, if you are the originally alcoholic one in this failed marriage, that’s undoubtedly, you).
The Taylor & Burton Hollywood Romance
Elizabeth Taylor was no stranger to marriage (and divorce) when she began filming with Richard Burton on the expensive set of Cleopatra. Only 29 years old at that time, Taylor was already on husband #4 – Eddie Fisher, who had left his own wife – the famous Debbie Reynolds – to marry again. Taylor had already earned the celebrity news tag of “homewrecker” before her violet eyes started looking elsewhere (again).
Burton (himself married, unsurprisingly) was already known in Hollywood circles as the definitive “ladies man.” Years earlier, he had met Taylor at a party, flirted uncompromisingly with her, and was declined. She reportedly said she was not prepared to be “another notch on his belt.” However, now in daily close proximity to one another on the film-set, the inevitable soon happened.
However, now on-set, Burton once reportedly announced to anyone who’d listen in the men’s makeup trailer: “Gentlemen, I’ve just f****d Elizabeth Taylor in the back of my Cadillac!”
Two years later, Cleopatra now finished, Taylor made Burton husband #5. Maybe she enjoyed the lavish wedding ceremony because a decade later, she made him husband #6 too. Married in 1964, divorced in 1974, re-married in 1975, and then divorced (once and for all) in 1976. As mentioned earlier, Shakespeare would have had trouble writing that play…
Burton’s Alcoholism – Another Epic
As acknowledged in a BBC Wales blog about his death aged 58 in August 1984 in Switzerland, Richard Burton began drinking heavily when he was just 12 years old. He had reportedly been, on occasion, consuming around 3 bottles of vodka a day during his marriage to Taylor, and afterward, after their second and final divorce. His post mortem revealed he died of a massive brain hemorrhage, finally succumbing to his years of chronic (and unchecked) alcoholism. In retrospect, it’s interesting to note that no-one, not even Taylor, ever staged an addiction intervention for Burton.
“A kiss… to take my breath away…” – Richard Burton, as Antony, dying in Cleopatra’s arms
Following a serious lung cancer scare for Taylor, she and Burton decided to holiday together in South Africa. They married less than a week later. Burton’s published diaries – aptly named “The Richard Burton Diaries” – reveal frankly how his alcoholism marred their reconciliation and second marriage:
- Friday, October 10 [the day they remarried]: “We are as happy as children. We catch our breaths every so often and say with a kind of smiling wonder and delight: ‘Hey! Do you realize we are actually married?’ We must have said it scores of times. I’ve never been so happy in my life. E cured me with loving, even lavish, attention. This is a far better marriage than the first. Got shamefully sloshed.”
- Saturday, October 11 [the morning after]: “Woke up feeling very ill and to make sure that I wouldn’t get sloshed, ETB [Elizabeth Taylor Burton] gave me Antabuse [drug to combat alcoholism], which might quite easily have killed me, feeling as I did. However, felt emotionally very content.”
- Wednesday, October 15: “Got up early. Drank some wine while E asleep. Felt terrible. She took one look at me and put me to bed. I said it was malaria pills. She was very not amused.”
- Tuesday, October 21: “Drank enormously and cheated when E wasn’t looking. Don’t remember much except falling a lot and suggesting divorce. Can’t control my hands, so cannot write any more. Very silly. Booze!”
And so it continued…
- Monday, October 27: “Drank a lot. Don’t remember anything, if at all.”
They divorced in July of the following year. Taylor once revealed in an interview years later that Burton had sent her one last letter before his death, expressing his desire to come home to her: “I was still madly in love with him the day he died. I think he still loved me, too.” That letter was reportedly buried with Taylor after she died in 2011.
Taylor, Burton, and Codependency
Codependency, when one of those in a relationship is alcoholic, occurs when the non-alcoholic partner unhealthily puts the wellbeing of the other (and alcoholic) person above their own wellbeing and often involves “enabling” – helping and facilitating the other’s continued alcoholism. Their relationship has become so dysfunctional that this focus on the other person becomes of paramount importance.
Symptoms of codependency can include:
- Being dependent on others, including for one’s self-esteem
- Trying to control everything and everyone in one’s life
- Aiming to please people to an extreme level
- Having low self-esteem and difficulty with communicating their own feelings, beliefs, and needs
- Obsessing over other people
- Experiencing anxiety, fear, and other difficult emotions
- Being in denial about codependency and their own need for help
The term “codependency” was first used to refer to the married partners of alcoholics. However, now professionals have realized that codependency can occur in all manner of relationships. Research has found that codependent behaviors can be learned from other relationship dynamics, such as:
- Growing up with dysfunctional parents
- Mental health disorders
- Chronic physical illness
- Childhood abuse
How Northpoint Washington Can Help
In a codependent marriage or close relationship where one partner has AUD, a clear part of the overall solution is professional addiction treatment for the alcoholic one. Northpoint Washington, located in Edmunds, near Seattle, in Washington state, offers inpatient drug and alcohol treatment for those suffering from alcoholism.
This accredited professional treatment offers the following:
- Stay for 28 days in a safe & supportive environment
- Professional medical support 24/7
- Medicated Assisted Treatment
- Dual diagnosis to address mental health issues
- Minimize your likelihood of relapse
- Focus 100% of your time and effort on recovery
The inpatient program also includes a professional, medically-assisted detox from alcohol if required, with our doctors strategically using a combination of prescription medications to help in the detox process. The benefits of detox:
- It can prevent the onset of severe withdrawal symptoms
- It helps to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal, including cravings for alcohol
- It is proven to boost recovery success rates from 20% to 50%
Finally, a few last words from another pair of famous lovers – Antony and Cleopatra…
“Without you Antony, this is not a world I want to live in, much less conquer. Because for me there would be no love anywhere. Do you want me to die with you ? I will. Or do you want me to live with you ? Whatever you choose.” – Cleopatra
“Are we too late, do you think, if we choose life?” – Antony
“Better too late than never.” – Cleopatra