updated 06/01/2010 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 06/02/2010 AT 8:05 AM ET
It was one of the great love affairs of the last century – a turbulent 20-year odyssey of lust, love and marriage (twice), all in the spotlight of Hollywood fame. Now, Elizabeth Taylor is offering glimpses into her passionate, often painful life with Richard Burton through his love letters to her.
In the letters, excerpted in the July issue of Vanity Fair, Burton, who died in 1984 at age 58, teases and cajoles, threatens and confesses – and tries to come to terms with his infatuation, love and need for Taylor.
“Richard was magnificent in every sense of the word,” the actress, now 78, tells the magazine. “From those first moments in Rome [on the set of Cleopatra] we were always madly and powerfully in love.”
But it was a love that had a dark side. They married twice and divorced twice, but never fully let go of each other. Among the highlights from Burton’s letters:
On his need for Taylor: “If you leave me I shall have to kill myself. There is no life without you.”
On her gifts as an actress: “You are probably the best actress in the world, which, com bined with your extraordinary beauty, makes you unique. When, as an actress, you want to be funny, you are funnier than W.C. Fields; when, as an actress, you are meant to be tragic, you are tragic.”
On their misunderstandings: “You must know, of course, how much I love you. You must know, of course, how badly I treat you. But the fundamental and most vicious, swinish, murderous, and unchangeable fact is that we totally misunderstand each other we operate on alien wave lengths.”
On his own acting: “I have never quite got over the fact that I thought and I’m afraid I still do think, that ‘acting’ for a man – a really proper man – is sissified and faintly ridiculous. My heart, unlike yours, is not in it.”
The one letter that Taylor declines to share publicly – though she read it aloud to a Vanity Fair reporter – was the last one he wrote to her, just days before his unexpected death from a brain hemorrhage. In that letter, which Taylor keeps in a bedside drawer, he says he was happiest in life when he was with her, and wonders if they might have another shot together.