Sir Richard Burton kept a diary during his last attempt at sobriety. The first entry is on January 3, 1973 and the last entry is on December 23, 1973. The following is a condensed version of the diary. Entries that were considered repetitious or redundant have been removed for brevity’s sake.
January 13: I just spent the better part of the evening trying not to fall asleep while watching the new Bertolucci. Gene Hackman was sitting behind me. When the lights came up Gene asked what I thought. I told him it was like watching paint dry. Gene liked that. He’ll probably steal it for himself. All Americans are criminals. I hope the Soviets drop the bomb on them one day. I think it would be a nice life working for the KGB. Better than this life. January 29: There has been a twist in my sobriety. I think I’m starting to hallucinate. Tonight I hallucinated that I was watching the new Bertolucci. I don’t intend to see the new Bertolucci a second time, but there I thought I was, at the same theater, sitting in the same seat, sitting in front of Gene Hackman. When the lights came up he asked me what I thought of the film and I asked him if he taking the piss out of me and he said no, he said he really wanted to know what I thought of the film and I told him, once again, that watching it was akin to watching paint dry. Gene said he liked that. He laughed. If I hallucinate that I am seeing the new Bertolucci for a third time I will start drinking immediately and never stop, not until complete liver failure. February 14: Today was one of the first days during this arduous journey when I have gone more than an hour without thinking about drinking an entire bottle of scotch and just getting it over with. Spent most of the night listening to Billy Martin threaten me. He asked me what it was like to ‘pork’ Elizabeth Taylor and I told him a gentleman never kisses and tells. Then he asked me if I was saying he wasn’t a gentleman and after that things got out of hand. In my haste I accidentally got on the wrong Subway and wound up in Brighton Beach. I managed to find the right train, on which I saw none other than Billy Martin, passed out, on the floor, in his uniform. At least I think it was Billy Martin. I find during my visits to New York that there are many men who look exactly like Billy Martin. March 9: I have been sick as a dog. My body is useless. All I wanted was a drink, just a sip of cognac, something light, just to take the edge off. I spent most of the day in my trailer reading Hofstadter and Goffman. Reading them makes me want to go back to school. I should be doing something else with my life. I’m beginning to think that perhaps I am not cut out to be an actor anymore. All of my best selves have washed away on an amber tide. There is nothing left of me. All I am is an empty vessel. Dry. Parched. Unable to absorb the sweet nectar of life. I am a ham sandwich. The birds are chirping. I am constantly surrounded by hundreds of people and I have never felt more alone. April 22: Tonight I saw a performance for the ages, one that has made me reconsider the possibilities of my craft, that has shown there is a way forward, a new path. She is an American and she is a child and her name is Linda Blair and I have just watched her give a performance that is positively uncanny. I did not think adults were capable of giving such a performance, let alone a child. I was enraptured from the first frame and never once during the film did I think about alcohol. Gene Hackman was sitting behind me and at some point he cracked open a can of beer. I could smell it. But only for a moment, until I was sucked back into the movie by the sheer will of Linda Blair. There is no doubt in my mind that she will be an actress for the ages. I look forward to meeting her and hopefully, at some point in the near future, working with her. July 4: If someone had told me a year ago that I would spend July 4th, 1973 strolling down the Venice Boardwalk with Linda Blair and I would have said, Who, and then I would have asked for another round of drinks. But that’s exactly what I have done. Linda was very sweet, but very temperamental. She got into a snit when I told her I didn’t want to sit on the beach. I was unable to calm her down and it made me very irritable. Plus it didn’t help that Linda and her friends were drinking and smoking enormous joints. Finally I had to take her aside and tell her that if she didn’t lower her voice I was going to leave which seemed to settle her down for a little while. I kept calm and let Linda carry on. Eventually she burned herself out and fell asleep. I left her with some of her friends. She passed out underneath a lifeguard tower and I was not about to get sand in my shoes. I can think of nothing so horrible as that. September 30: I have yet to make peace with the idea that I am never going to have another drink for the rest of my life. I can’t believe that I have to do this and have to do this right now. I always knew this would happen, but I thought it would happen when I was a little older, a little worn out, a little bored with life and ready to make a change. But it appears that I am already old and worn out and ready to make a change. I am the old man I have always dreamt about. But now I am awake and I am realizing that this life is not a dream, but a nightmare, albeit an air-conditioned one. I alternate by finding this invigorating and paralyzing. This is it. Now has become never. And yet there is still a part of me that wants to do nothing more than slurp Brandy off of Elizabeth’s magnificent breasts while wearing an industrial strength diaper so that I never have to stop. November 22: I have never felt better in my life. My face looks chiseled. Suits I haven’t worn in years, maybe decades, fit me better than they did before. I am moving differently as well. People are smiling at me because I am smiling at them. There’s nothing better than walking down the street and having people compliment you. It’s almost as good as booze. Or maybe it’s better. I haven’t decided. Today I was looking at the new buildings in New York and I had an epiphany. I figured something out, something that is going to help me get back on top. But I’m not going to tell anyone what I have learned. That’s for me to know and for everyone else to find out. Those who know what I’m talking about will know that I know what I am talking about as soon as they hear me talk about it. There are certain code words and catch phrases and aphorisms people who have had this epiphany use with each other. I am now one of those people. This is going to be a glorious run. I am excited about the possibilities. I am in possession of one of the rarest substances in the Universe: limitless potential for greatness. December 23: Someone left a bottle under the sink. I don’t know who it was. It wasn’t me. I didn’t leave a bottle under the sink in case of emergency. I should have thrown out the bottle but that’s not what I did. I drank the whole thing. Now it smells like someone has soiled their pants. But there is no one else here. So it must be me. But why won’t please anyone help.