Born Richard Walter Jenkins in Pontrhydyfen (Wales) on 10 November 1925, Richard Burton was the 12th of 13 children. Displaying a talent for English and Welsh literature at school, he was encouraged by his schoolmaster, Philip Burton, to take part in school stage productions.
Early on he displayed a strong speaking and singing voice, and won an Eisteddfod prize as a boy soprano.
Philip Burton adopted Richard, who returned to school and worked hard to develop his acting potential. He starred as Henry Higgins in a YMCA production of Pygmalion. From 1944 to 1947, he served as a navigator in the Royal Air Force between 1944 and 1947.
After leaving the RAF in 1947 he moved to London to find work as an actor. He signed up with a theatrical agency, and his first professional roles were in radio plays for the BBC and in the film The Last Days Of Dolwyn.

During the 1950s his profile grew, with London and New York appearances in The Lady's Not For Burning, alongside John Gielgud and Claire Bloom. His performance as Prince Henry in a 1951 Stratford production of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 won him critical acclaim, and elevation into circle of great British actors.
In 1952 his Hollywood career began after he signed a five-year contract with director/producer Alexander Korda. 20th Century Fox signed up Burton for three films - the first was My Cousin Rachel, for which he was given the lead role.
The film was a critical and commercial success, establishing Burton as a Hollywood leading man and gaining him an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe award.
A number of high profile film roles followed, including Alexander The Great (1956), for which he played the title role. Burton's theatre career was running in tandem with his appearances on the silver screen. He played Coriolanus and Hamlet at the Old Vic in 1953.
He received a Tony Award nomination for his Broadway performance in Time Remembered (1958), and won a Tony for playing King Arthur in the 1960 musical Camelot. In 1964 he won a third award for reprising his role as Hamlet, in a 1964 production directed by John Gielgud.
After Hamlet he rarely appeared on stage, although he returned in 1976 to perform in Equus as psychiatrist Martin.
In 1963 he took the role of Mark Antony in Cleopatra, acting opposite Elizabeth Taylor.
A succession of film roles followed, several alongside Taylor. These included The Sandpiper (1965), Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Taming Of The Shrew (1967). After a triumphant performance alongside Clint Eastwood in 1968's Where Eagles Dare, Burton's fortunes began to decline. During his long film career Richard Burton was nominated six times for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and once for Best Supporting Actor. Despite this he never won.