"Her breasts would topple empires before they withered...she was the most sullen, uncommunicative and beautiful woman I had ever seen," said Richard Burton in 1953 of his first look at Elizabeth Taylor. Nine years later, while married to others, he and she began a relationship that enraged the Vatican and caused the gainful employment of hundreds of paparazzi. On the set of "Cleopatra," what Liz and Dick called le scandale just went on and on. The public saw them in bathing dishabille, in drunken brawls and other feats of extreme behavior.
And they embarked on a life of extremes after he divorced and she divorced to marry each other. There were furs, dogs, yachts, incredible cars, houses, gigantic jewelry. But there was also an intensity that resulted in bantering and not-so-bantering insults. They likened themselves to "a pair of scissors" or, as Taylor put it, "chicken feathers to tar." Yet she admired and studied his skills at Shakespeare, poetry and literature, and he loved her ability to keep up with him--in everything. But booze, gross amounts of it, did in the marriage. In 1973 they split. Miserable apart, they remarried in 1975, only to break up in four months.
When he died in 1984, she was barred from the funeral by the last Mrs. Burton. Elizabeth nonetheless received the most condolences. Today she says Richard was "one of the two great loves of my life." The other was Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash. But most of her friends know that Burton was the man she fought hardest to keep--and the man she would probably have tried to win back again had he lived.