Name at birth: Richard Walter Jenkins, Jr.
Richard Burton was a Welsh actor known for his many appearances on stage and in big screen costume dramas, and for being married to Elizabeth Taylor -- twice. Burton was two years old when his mother died, and he was raised by an older sister in South Wales. He was accepted to study drama at Oxford and made his stage debut in 1943, but was called to serve in the Royal Air Force in 1944. After three years, he was cashiered out and began his career on the stage, making a splash in 1949's The Lady's Not For Burning. Within a few years, he'd earned a reputation as an exciting young actor, and Hollywood came calling in 1952. Burton earned the first of his seven Oscar nominations for his supporting role in My Cousin Rachel (1952), the first of many costumers that exploited his chiseled good looks and melodious stage voice. He showed an independent streak, too, appearing on stage and in films in both the U.S. and Europe and commanding steep fees. His adulterous romance with Elizabeth Taylor on the set of 1963's Cleopatra became the stuff of Hollywood legend; the movie was the most expensive film project ever at the time, and Taylor and Burton's passionate affair stimulated a prolonged marketing campaign. The two left their respective spouses and married in 1964. Together they made films and tabloid headlines, but their turbulent marriage ended in divorce in 1974. They remarried in 1975, but that ended in divorce the next year. Meanwhile, Burton had racked up an unimpressive list of films (for which he was well-paid), and the story got around that hard drinking and life in the spotlight had overwhelmed him. By the early 1980s, Burton was sounding a new beginning, but after his impressive turn in the film version of George Orwell's 1984, his life was cut short at the age of 58, when he suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. As a lead actor, he was Oscar-nominated for The Robe (1953), Becket (1964), The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966, his co-star, Liz Taylor, won the Oscar that year), Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and Equus (1977).