May 21, 2008 / 1:32 PM / 10 years ago

Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed: Hellraisers Inc

LONDON (Reuters) - Richard Burton had no doubt that “God put me on this earth to raise hell.”

<p>Peter O' Toole was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime acheivement during the 75th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, March 23, 2003. OSCARSPLUS REUTERS/Lucy Nichols</p>

For Peter O‘Toole “Booze is the most outrageous of drugs which is why I chose it.”

Richard Harris “loved the excitement of my drinking days. Life is made from memories which is a pity as I don’t remember much.”

Oliver Reed readily admitted “I do not live in the world of sobriety.”

Critics might argue that this quartet of larger-than-life actors squandered their talent in far too many appalling movies because they were too busy chasing their drinking demons.

Not so says author Robert Sellers in “Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O‘Toole and Oliver Reed.”

“They got away with the kind of behavior that today’s vapid bunch of film stars could scarcely dream of because of their mercurial acting talent and because the press and public loved them,” he writes in the book, being published on May 29.

He hailed “four extraordinary lives lived extraordinarily.”

Richard Harris, star of “Camelot” and “This Sporting Life” along with some real stinkers, reveled like the others in living life to the full.

“Look at a photograph of me from the old days and I‘m going to one of my film premieres with a bottle of vodka in my hand. Tom Cruise has a bottle of Evian water. That’s the difference,” the outlandish Irishman once recalled.

When drunk, he would rush into traffic and attack passing cars with his bare fists. He once threw a wardrobe at his wife.

O‘Toole, who soared to fame in “Lawrence of Arabia,” once beat up a policeman after seeing some of his colleagues rough up a prostitute.

Burton twice faced angry husbands brandishing guns after he had seduced their wives.

Reed got the juvenile cast of the musical “Oliver” drunk after spiking the children’s drinks with vodka.

But, as the book so tellingly relates, non-stop debauchery inevitably took its toll -- even with a fitting final curtain.

Burton, a great classical actor who opted instead for the lure of Hollywood and the tempestuous charms of “Cleopatra” star Elizabeth Taylor, died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

He had jotted down as his own epitaph a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Our revels now are ended.”

Reed, on the point of reviving his flagging career with a screen-stealing performance in “Gladiator,” keeled over and died after arm-wrestling a bunch of sailors in a pub in Malta.

Harris, whose last claim to film fame was as teenage wizard Harry Potter’s headmaster, was given the perfect send-off by one of his sons in the morgue -- he dipped his fingers into a pint of Guinness stout and wetted his dead father’s lips with it.

So that just leaves O‘Toole as the last one standing -- without an ounce of regret.

“I loved the drinking and the waking up in the morning and finding I was in Mexico. It was part and parcel of being an idiot,” he concluded.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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