The Richard Burton story: Part 3 - Heartbreak of devoted dad; STALKED BY GUILT OVER HIS SICK DAUGHTER.
She had been born with severe mental problems and was trapped in the silent prison of autism and schizophrenia.
Her illness cast a shadow of torment over him for the last 20 years of his life.
Jessica was the second of his daughters with his first wife Sybil - a feisty, beautiful Welsh actress whom he left for the truly great passion of his life Elizabeth Taylor.
But Pontrhydyfen-born Burton, who died aged 58 in August 1984, believed his desertion of Sybil tipped the disturbed Jessica over the edge and into the abyss of mental illness.
She has, for the past 36 years been under care at a home in Pennsylvania, paid for by a large provision left to her in Burton's will. "All I can do is make her rich - and she is rich," he once said. But it is a fortune Jessica cannot use.
Kate Burton, her 42-year-old elder actress sister - currently touring Britain in The Beauty Queen of Leenane - says her parents looked after Jessica at home during her infant years.
"But she became impossible to handle and obviously needed special care,"" she said this week. "At first she would only communicate by parroting everything I said. Then she stopped communicating altogether. Jessica was a beautiful little girl - such pale skin and lovely dark hair.
"There was a Welsh beauty about her. Every time I look at my own little girl Charlotte I am reminded of my beautiful sister. They are so alike.
"Sadly, I haven't seen her for some time. She is imprisoned in her own mind."
FOR Burton, Jessica's sickness opened up a wide door of guilt from which he never recovered.
It was to stalk him, setting off terrible morbid fears about "bad blood," and a dark, Celtic depression would envelop him when he started thinking about Jessica.
He constantly questioned himself about the child. Had his lifestyle - so often rumbustious and boozy - affected her?
Or the constant press intrusions? Or maybe the widely-publicised scandal of his affair with Elizabeth Taylor? Burton remembered, with painful clarity, how the world's press and the paparazzi were so devouring - literally groping at the windows during this period - and how it affected Jessica.
Sometimes, when the press became increasingly aggressive, Jessica would suddenly start sobbing wildly, screaming one of the few words she ever spoke.
Rich, Rich, Rich," was the hysterical cry. It was as though she was calling for her father to stop the pain - for "Rich" was Burton's nickname. It gave him an unbearable melancholy.
As Melvyn Bragg, Burton's official biographer put it: "Jessica became his shadow, his fear, his horror."
Apart from providing for his daughter, he also sought to make amends by writing and narrating for nothing a half-hour film on the work of the Devereux Institute which specialises in the care of similarly-afflicted children in America, and is looking after Jessica.
For all his wild ways, heavy drinking and frequent plunges into gloom, Burton was a thoughtful and caring father.
Kate Burton, who has her father's looks around the eyes, recalled: "He was so loving - and always there for me when I was growing up. Occasionally, when I was going through the rebellious teenage bit, he could get angry with me. I remember being on the set of Anne Of A Thousand Days in which he played King Henry VIII. He brought over someone he wanted me to meet. I had my nose in a book and just said 'hello' and went back to reading. Dad went a bit mad later.
"But my main memories of him are as a very tender and loving man. I was raised in New York, but I have inherited his Welshness. I am very Welsh inside - I feel it like a power. Dad would have loved that."
Kate Burton learned to take her father's drinking in her stride - she has clearly inherited her mother's practical approach to life - and went to Al-Anon, the organisation run by Alcoholics Anonymous to help the relatives of drinkers.
"He had a strong will and could stop drinking if he wanted," said Kate, "but there was no back-up or support group to help him stay off the drink."
She looked very sad for a moment. "The worst thing was that drink really aged my father. I think it's the most destructive substance you can put in your body.
"I do enjoy the occasional beer myself and I think to myself 'thank God I haven't inherited the drinking gene. And I hope it hasn't skipped a generation. I pray my children don't have it." Kate Burton smiles again - and the family likeness is amazing. "My father was a wonderful man and I miss him dreadfully. I was the apple of his eye.""
Burton had married Elizabeth Taylor, first in 1964 and again in 1975.
The first marriage lasted 11 tempestuous years and the second, barely a year.
His marriage to Sybil lasted from 1949 to 1963, to Susie Hunt - widow of racing car star James Hunt - from l976 to l982.
Finally, he would contentedly marry Sally Hay in 1983 - a union that was cut short by his death a year later.
BUT it was, despite the divorces, Elizabeth Taylor who cast a spell over this brilliant boy from the valleys who had conquered both the stage and Hollywood.
"I have found the only woman I want," he said after first seeing her on the set of Cleopatra, in which they both starred.
Some thought he had abandoned all his adult ambitions as a serious actor - to be counted alongside such major talents as Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud - and had retreated to the world of schoolboy-type fantasies.
After all, Elizabeth Taylor was regarded as the world's most beautiful woman, with a great sexual power. It was as though he had made a deal with the Devil - that he had sold out his great talent for fame, great wealth and the possession of the most desired woman on earth.
He certainly achieved all three - making many films not worthy of his abilities, accruing enormous wealth as well as marrying Elizabeth Taylor.
Their marriage, fuelled by drink and passion, was explosive.
Theirs was a case of the attraction of opposites: He was always punctual and extremely tidy; she was usually late and slovenly; he was domestically-inclined; she was like a gipsy; he liked to boast and exaggerate; she was fanatical about the truth.
They both loved sex - and made little secret of it. Watching them together, it was difficult to miss the naked desire in Burton's eyes when he gazed at her. It was as though he could not believe his luck.
The boil-infested virgin lad from Pontrhydyfen had landed Elizabeth Taylor.
Finally, they could not live together, despite trying marriage a second time. But Burton was to find peace and tranquillity with his last wife, Sally. He was deeply happy with her and could retreat to their home in Switzerland, with all its books, and be alone with his thoughts.
Only when the dark shadows of the night fell did that Welsh melancholy take Richard Burton once again in a stranglehold of depression.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||May 24, 2000|
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