He is as famous for his turbulent personal life as his acting skills: a hard-living, heavy-drinking, headline-grabbing Hollywood icon.
But a much more gentle and rounded picture of Richard Burton is to be found in a major exhibition of his life opening at National Museum Cardiff on Saturday.
Becoming Richard Burton tells the remarkable story of how a boy from modest beginnings in south Wales developed into an international star of stage and screen.
It seeks to dig into the man behind the headlines. He was a global celebrity but also a family man, a bibliophile who despite his his jet-set lifestyle always felt very much part of Wales.
Sally Burton, the actor’s widow, said the “shorthand way” to remember her late husband was through his two marriages to Elizabeth Taylor and “his excesses”.
She accepted that visitors to the exhibition are bound to be drawn to spectacular objects such as the costumes he and Taylor wore in the 1963 epic Cleopatra.
The jacket he wore while playing Major Smith in the 1968 movie Where Eagles Dare – which featured one of his most famous lines, “Broadsword calling Danny Boy” – is also on display.
But Burton said she hoped people would take time to inspect objects, many of which are being seen in public for the first time, that tell the poignant story of his childhood, especially his formative years growing up in the Taibach area of Port Talbot as miner’s son Richard Jenkins.
Burton’s childhood diary, for example, gives a glimpse into a youth spent playing rugby and Monopoly, and visiting the cinema, library and chapel during the second world war.
The diary is open on 6 February 1940 – “Started to make a tray in woodwork … had a fine afternoon especially with Burton who talked about Astronomy.”
“Burton” is Philip Burton, a talented English teacher who spotted the young Richard’s acting talent and became his legal guardian. The wooden tray the teenager made that day was given to his beloved sister Cis.
Sally Burton said: “One of the interesting things about Richard is that he emerged from Wales, rebuilding and recreating himself as the country was rebuilding and recreating after the war.
“People were drawn to him. Sometimes he would say, ‘What is it about me?’ I believe this exhibition will enable us to explore some of those intriguing answers.”
The free exhibition is a partnership between Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and Swansea University. Many of the items have been loaned to the museum by the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University and by his widow.
To coincide with the physical show, people who cannot visit – and coronavirus may make it difficult for months to come – there will also be a digital exhibition on the museum’s website.
Amgueddfa Cymru’s director general, David Anderson, said: “Richard Burton was and remains a national icon. This is the first exhibition to examine his life in full and tell the story of how a young boy from humble beginnings in south Wales became the most famous Welshman of our time, and serves as an inspiration of how this wonderful country punches above its weight.”
The exhibition was due to open earlier this year but was postponed because of coronavirus. It will run until 11 April 2021.
Anderson added: “Museums and galleries play a vital role in ensuring the wellbeing of our nation and I’m proud that Amgueddfa Cymru has been able to realise this exhibition in the difficult circumstances that the pandemic continues to present us.”