On Richard Burton, Richard Harris and our drinking society, Gabriel Byrne on


Richard Burton and Richard Harris, by Gabriel Byrne.

One day, I remember talking to Burton and he asked his assistant, ‘How many movies have I made now?’ And his assistant said to him, ‘I don’t know, 85, maybe 90.’ He said he was addicted to movies, and he would say on Friday when he would start the next one, because for him it was an escape from life.

“Burton, like Harris, was a brilliant reader. Burton and Harris would have preferred to be writers, I suppose. I’m almost sure of that, but I felt their isolation and unhappiness.

When I worked with him, Burton was 56, and he was already a very old man, barely able to lift his neck, he moved very slowly, very frail.

I remember working in Lapland with Harris and he jumped into a freezing lake and even the Eskimos said they weren’t doing that, it was dangerous.

“And I thought Harris was old at the time because he looked old, even though he was built like a rugby player, but when he died he was only 72. That’s not old. And Burton was 58.”

Gabriel Byrne on our history of drinking

It’s very much intertwined with what we think is a nice time, I think. People watch soccer games with pints in pubs. Birthdays, funerals, it’s all about alcohol. Even conversation doesn’t really get going until a few pints have been given to people.

“But the notion of drinking to oblivion… That’s something else, it seems. On a weekend night, when I go to Glasgow or Newcastle or Bristol or Dublin, I’m surprised that there’s no shame about lying in the street face down. Young boys, young girls.

“And you think, ‘What makes people behave like that?’ Because I come from that culture. You were actually considered a great guy if you could drink 20 pints. I knew a fireman who drank 23 pints in one day and then got back in to put out a fire. And people said, ‘Ah, that man’s great,’ he’s got no problems.”


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