Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed [NOOK Book]


The Boozy Biography of the Four Greatest Actors to Ever Walk--Or Stagger--Into a Pub. Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed: On screen they were stars. Off screen they were legends!Hellraisers is the story of drunken binges of near biblical proportions, parties and orgies, broken marriages, riots, and wanton sexual conquests. Indeed, acts so outrageous that if you or I had perpetrated them we could have ended up in jail. Their mercurial acting talent and love from the press and the ...
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Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed

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The Boozy Biography of the Four Greatest Actors to Ever Walk--Or Stagger--Into a Pub. Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed: On screen they were stars. Off screen they were legends!Hellraisers is the story of drunken binges of near biblical proportions, parties and orgies, broken marriages, riots, and wanton sexual conquests. Indeed, acts so outrageous that if you or I had perpetrated them we could have ended up in jail. Their mercurial acting talent and love from the press and the public allowed them to get away with the kind of behaviour that today’s film stars could scarcely dream of. They were truly the last of a breed, the last of the movie hellraisers.This book traces the intertwining lives and careers of Burton, Harris, O'Toole, and Reed, plus an assortment of other movie boozers who crossed their path. It's a celebratory catalogue of their miscreant deeds, a greatest-hits package, as it were, of their most breathtakingly outrageous behavior, told with humor and affection. You can’t help but enjoy it—after all, they bloody well did.

"God put me on this earth to raise sheer hell."--Richard Burton

"I don't have a drink problem. But if that was the case and doctors told me I had to stop I'd like to think that I would be brave enough to drink myself into the grave."--Oliver Reed

"I was a sinner. I slugged some people. I hurt many people. And it's true, I never looked back to see the casualties."--Richard Harris

"Booze is the most outrageous of drugs, which is why I chose it."--Peter O'Toole

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
Hellraisers wants only to be a rowdy collection of greatest hits, and it lives up to that fun-loving ambition. It reels off riotous tales about Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed without giving a moment's thought to what those tales might mean…Anyone horrified by the reckless abandon of Hellraisers should know what its ultimate effect turns out to be. This fun-loving celebration of drunkenness proves to be an even more sobering cautionary tale than some of the most serious addiction and recovery memoirs. And the fact that none could entirely stop drinking, even when it became a life-or-death medical necessity, makes it that much sadder. Funny as it is, the book's boisterous beginning gives way to grimly premature states of illness and dotage
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Show business biographer Sellers (The Battle for Bond) chronicles the booze-soaked lives of four of the stage and screen’s most bombastic performers. Welsh Burton (1925–1984), Irish-born Harris (1930–2002), Irish-born and English-raised O’Toole (born 1932) and English Reed (1937–1999) gave some of the 20th century’s most memorable performances, but were equally famous for their offscreen antics. Except for Reed, their careers began on the British stage, before all four were lured to Hollywood, starring in such classics as Lawrence of Arabia (O’Toole), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Burton), Camelot (Harris) and The Three Musketeers (Reed). Consuming staggering amounts of alcohol on a daily basis, all were forces to be reckoned with on the set, often turning up too drunk to perform. Burton’s tempestuous affair with Elizabeth Taylor—which led to two marriages and two divorces—often eclipsed his talent, while O’Toole, Harris and Reed saw their careers slump in the late 1970s and ’80s, only to be revived by roles in such successful films as Troy (O’Toole), the Harry Potter franchise (Harris) and Gladiator (Reed). Though Sellers often muddles the chronology by switching too often between the four’s liquored-up antics, his glimpse into Hollywood’s culture of excess is more than enough to satisfy. (Dec.)
Library Journal
UK-based showbiz author and former stand-up comic Sellers profiles the four actors of the subtitle by the decade, alternating their stories and recounting their exploits. Sellers has drawn on various biographies for tales of lifelong hell-raising behavior. Chapters cover "The Plastered Fifties," through "The Pickled Nineties," to, finally, "Last Man Standing" (Peter O'Toole). A quotation from director Peter Medak captures the spirit: "It was the same with Burton and O'Toole, and Harris and Reed, there was this terrible sense of danger around them, you didn't know if they were going to kiss you, hug you or punch you right in the face. They were just wonderful." One anecdote tells of Oliver Reed drunk, on the baggage conveyor at Galway Airport. All four men experienced ups and downs in their careers and private lives exacerbated by drink; Sellers also covers how the wild life affected their health. VERDICT Akin to Gregory William Mank's Hollywood's Hellfire Club, which focuses on golden age Hollywood, this readable and amusing but sad biography benefits from four different subjects. Some stories may be considered offensive.—Barbara Kundanis, Longmont P.L., CO
Kirkus Reviews
A British stand-up comedian turned journalist scrutinizes four celebrated, heavy-drinking actors. Sellers' blackly humorous biography chronicles the bawdy, outrageous reputations of "four of the greatest boozers that ever walked-or staggered-into a pub. It's a "celebratory catalogue of their miscreant deeds" that thankfully incorporates notes of humor and revelation, since these conditions not only stalled their careers but cost them their livelihoods. Welsh actor Richard Burton, once one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, claimed apathy (and a stream of cinematic "drivel") as his primary reason for drinking, that life offstage was too much of a sobering reversal to handle without alcohol. Irishman Richard Harris abused alcohol for most of his life while achieving fame in the film adaptation of Camelot (1967), then more recently as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. Despite winning major acclaim in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Peter O'Toole's heavy drinking and public brawling sabotaged his career. After some resulting major surgery, his ability to garner film roles was stunted further. British actor Oliver Reed, the most notorious of the "hellraisers," died amid a legendary drinking binge in Malta during the filming of Gladiator (1999). Sellers delivers decades of debauched history and insider Hollywood information on his subjects, from the "The Plastered Fifties" to "The Pickled Nineties." Chain-smoking Burton was prone to rages and a voracious sexual appetite; Harris' domineering personality and days-long drinking binges often trumped his notoriety; O'Toole, saddled with eccentricities and a failing marriage, befriended Burton in a union that Elizabeth Taylor quickly squashed;and Reed's dour public image suffered even more after his penchant for "showing his cock in public" emerged. Of the four, only O'Toole endures, "the last surviving British reprobate" who "knows he's been living on borrowed time for years, watching all his drinking pals from the 60s [sic] go under turf one by one."A snarky, muckraking, indulgent treat for film buffs.
From the Publisher

"Told in the free-ranging anecdotal style of the bar stool bard--and taken, presumably, with the requisite tumberful of tipple--these breezy tales of outcast British actors stumbling, bumbling and humping their way to stardom, offer up truly guffaw-worthy camp and idiocy. All the classic bits are there. . . . The sprightly smash 'n dash of the prose so wonderfully captures the wanton belligerence of both binging and stardom you almost feel the guys themselves are telling the tales (and moaning and toasting all the while.)"


"A book celebrating famously unrepentant drunks is a welcome surprise . . . Like the rejuvenating martinis and blurry haze of cigarettes in "Mad Men," Robert Sellers's nostalgic Hellraisers . . . amounts to an unapologetic celebration of the plastered and the damned in our sanctimonious "Oprah" age of public confession and easy redemption."

--The Wall Street Journal

 "Robert Sellers' outrageously entertaining history proves that today's celebrities don't have much on Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed."

--The Daily Beast

"Hellraisers wants only to be a rowdy collection of greatest hits, and it lives up to that fun-loving ambition."

--The New York Times

"An incredibly entertaining series of anecdotes, interspersed with unpretentious and conversational interviews--all about drinking."

--The La Times

"As the colorful anecdotes collected in this book make clear, some stars are born rather than made."

--The New York Post

“Their names are included up there with the acting greats and these boys spent quite a bit of time behaving badly. From O’Toole getting arrested for wooing an insurance building, Reed dropping his pants in public to show off his “mighty mallet,” Harris attacking cars in Italy, to Burton urinating onstage, it is laid out in hilarious detail by Sellers. The hijinks, happening in a time before real paparazzi we have now, did not come without a price, although while on top, these men lived life to the fullest and never looked backward or even forward. . . . These extraordinary characters and ultimately charming men continued to grab life by the horns even when the partying slowed. The men were more than actors; they were legends, and they never let anyone forget it for an instant.”

--San Francisco Book Review

"The most outrageous film book of the season, by far, is Robert Sellers' Hellraisers. . . . We no longer think of the exploits and peccadilloes of self-annihilating alcoholics as a roistering, almost Elizabethan source of anecdotage and amusement, but for the last historical period where people did, Burton, Harris O'Toole and Reed were the source of more stories, both hilarious and monstrous, than anyone else."

--The Buffalo News

"Equal parts funny and appalling, Hellraisers takes us back to the glory days of stage and screen actors Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed."-

-Connecticut News

"There are some wonderful tales here."

--Dallas Morning News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429978699
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/26/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 194,190
  • File size: 787 KB

Meet the Author

ROBERT SELLERS is the author of eight books. He contributes regularly to Empire, Total Film, Cinema Retro, and The Independent. A former stand up comedian, he lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and daughter.
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Read an Excerpt

HELLRAISERS (Chapter One)An Aperitif

Throughout the history of movies there have always been hellraisers; actors and booze go together like Rogers and Hammerstein or eggs and bacon. Film producer Euan Lloyd, who worked over the years with Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum and Dean Martin, says that drinking simply went with the job. ‘Whether it was lack of confidence or just habit, it was hard to tell, but a destroyer could comfortably swim in the ocean of liquid consumed by actors.’

Lloyd’s association with Burton and Harris was the boy’s own adventure, perhaps the archetypal hellraiser movie, The Wild Geese, which also starred veteran boozer Stewart Granger and Roger Moore, himself not averse to a bit of elbow-bending, but able to hold it more than most. By 1978, after decades on the piss, Burton and Harris were mere shadows of their former selves. One day during a break in filming they sat together under the African sun reminiscing and trying to make sense of their lives. ‘We were like two old men,’ Harris said. ‘Once the greatest hellraisers in the world, we were now too tired to stand up and pee. After two hours of philosophical discussion, we came to the conclusion that the tragedy of our lives was the amount of it we don’t remember, because we were too drunk to remember.’

So why did they do it, Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed, why did they drink themselves to death, or – in the case of O’Toole – come within a hairsbreadth of it? Burton said it was ‘to burn up the flatness, the stale, empty, dull deadness that one feels when one goes offstage.’ More likely it was to get over the realization that he was appearing in a piece of shit. Nor was he averse to getting pissed on the job. Maybe it went hand in hand with his reputation as a legendary womanizer: not long after starting his infamous affair with Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra, Richard Burton answered the phone at her home. It was Taylor’s husband, Eddie Fisher, demanding to know what he was doing there. ‘What do you think I’m doing?’ Burton replied. ‘I’m fucking your wife.’ Probably emptying his drinks cabinet, as well.

Burton’s intake was prodigious. At the height of his boozing in the mid-70s he was knocking back three to four bottles of hard liquor a day. On The Klansman he was drunk for the entire production. ‘I barely recall making that film,’ he confessed. Burton loved the sheer sociability of booze, drinking in pubs, talking with mates and sharing stories; he was a man who enjoyed life better with a glass in his hand. After sex it was the thing he loved most in life. Coupled with his nicotine addiction – it’s rumoured he smoked 50 a day – Burton embraced that seemingly inbred Celtic desire to walk dangerously close to the precipice perhaps more than anyone.

Harris too loved the communal nature of boozing. He loved nothing better than going into a pub on his own and by the end of the evening being surrounded by a new gang of boisterous pals. ‘Men, not women,’ he’d state. ‘Boozing is a man’s world.’ For years Harris habitually drank two bottles of vodka a day. ‘That would take me up to seven in the evening, then I’d break open a bottle of brandy and a bottle of port and mix the two.’ Asked by a reporter once to describe how much booze he’d consumed over his lifetime Harris was only exaggerating mildly when he replied. ‘I could sail the QE2 to the Falklands on all the liquor I drank.’

There was also an element of being the naughty schoolboy about Harris’s drinking, of showing off. ‘I adored getting drunk and I adored reading in the papers what I had done the night before.’ He knew full well what he was doing by getting pissed all the time and ending up in police cells or brawling in public, but didn’t think it that awful. Neither did he hate himself for it in the morning or feel guilty. No, Harris just believed that the world and too many people in it were boring old farts and his mission was to live life to the fullest and spread a little joy around. ‘So I did, and damn the consequences.’

O’Toole was another who loved the social life of a drinker, propping up bars in Dublin or London, nattering with saloon-bar poets and philosophers, putting the world to rights. ‘But I don’t really know what I get out of it,’ he once said. ‘What does anyone get out of being drunk? It’s an anaesthetic. It diminishes the pain.’ O’Toole would drink to excess for no good reason, as he became intoxicated quite quickly due to the delicate state of his insides; he suffered from ill health most of his life, particularly from intestinal pain.

Naturally eccentric, the drink merely compounded the affliction, and fame when it came threw a spotlight on it so all the world could gawp and gasp at his escapades. This was a man who travelled the world yet never wore a watch or carried a wallet. Nor upon leaving home did he ever take his keys with him. ‘I just hope some bastard’s in.’ More than once, on the occasions when someone was not, O’Toole had to explain to the police why he should be breaking into his own property.

There was an undercurrent of violence to his drinking, too. At his hellraising peak the gossip columns were filled with accounts of booze-fuelled antics: a brawl with paparazzi on the Via Veneto in Rome, a fistfight with a French count in a restaurant, his fleeing Italy on the eve of being arrested, even the beating up of a policeman. O’Toole’s social life often was in danger of eclipsing his talent. ‘I was silly and young and drunken and making a complete clown of myself. But I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one’s local in Paris and woke up in Corsica.’

For Reed, like Burton and Harris, it wasn’t so much drinking he loved but the fact that it took place in pubs. He loved the companionship, the camaraderie with other men, the chance to challenge people to drink contests or bouts of arm wrestling. All his life he preferred the friendships he made in pubs to those on a film set. ‘You meet a better class of person in pubs.’

He also loved the loss of inhibitions in a person when they drank and so found great sport in getting anyone in his vicinity totally smashed. ‘People make so much more sense when they’re drunk and you can get along famously with people you couldn’t bear at other times.’ Journalists who visited him were invariably plied with unhealthy amounts of drink and staggered home after the encounter with the battle scars of a war correspondent.

Reed was proud of the fact that he could drink any man under the table. His favourite tipple was ‘gunk’, his own invention, an ice bucket with every drink in the bar poured into it. The Daily Mirror reported a doctor’s findings that the safe limit for any man’s consumption of alcohol was four pints a day, and then printed a story that Reed had managed to knock back 126 pints of beer in 24 hours and photographed him performing a victory horizontal hand-stand across the bar.

Reed’s antics were perhaps unmatched by any other hellraiser – and they are legion. He once arrived at Galway airport lying drunk on a baggage conveyor. On an international flight he incurred the wrath of the pilot by dropping his trousers and asking the air hostesses to judge a prettiest boy contest. All this led one journalist to say that calling Oliver Reed unpredictable was like calling Ivan the Terrible ‘colourful’.

All these men played up to their boozy, brawling, madcap image; some resented the press label of hellraiser, others wallowed in it, turning it almost into a badge of honour and a second career. ‘What that group of actors had was a fine madness, a lyrical madness,’ said Harris. ‘We lived our life with that madness and it was transmitted into our work. We had smiles on our faces and a sense that the world was mad. We weren’t afraid to be different. So we were always dangerous. Dangerous to meet in the street, in a restaurant, and dangerous to see on stage or in a film.’

Director Peter Medak recognizes that this element of danger was a significant part of the hellraiser’s make-up. ‘It was the same with Burton and O’Toole, and Harris and Reed, there was this terrible sense of danger around them, you didn’t know if they were going to kiss you, hug you or punch you right in the face. They were just wonderful.’

HELLRAISERS. Copyright © 2008, 2009 by Robert Sellers.

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Table of Contents

Spitting Image television sketch 3

Introduction 5

An Aperitif 7

Legends are Born 11

The Plastered Fifties 29

The Soused Sixties 68

The Sozzled Seventies 145

The Blotto Eighties 208

The Pickled Nineties 248

Last Man Standing 273

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Voyeuristic Tale for those with Weak Livers and Mortgages

    I heard about this book on NPR and was intrigued. While I am a fan of the actors featured, my interest in the book had less to do with them and more to do with their lifestyle, which is a good thing. The book is a bit of a biography, but mostly it is a tale of drunkeness and debauchery...my favorite topics.

    It is a quick read. I think I read it in a day, but I find myself re-reading passages of it. When your life has turned into an endless array of PTO meetings, soccer games and other suburban banalities, turn to Hellraisers and pour yourself a gin and tonic.

    I was surprised by how much I actually came to like the four actors featured (O'toole, Harris, Burton and Reed)..but I wouldn't want to be married to them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Lives with overindulgence

    I love to read about lives with passion, craziness, overindulgence and whatnots. If you are one of those who can't understand drinking, smoking and taking mind-altering drugs and consider them sins, you should not pick up this book. Many of the episodes in this book kept me laughing at night, some made me cringe, some made me to put down the book and think. Since these actors represent the big part of British/American film history, you will also find this book most entertaining.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    Entertaining but not cautionary.

    I found this book very absorbing and interesting. Mr. Sellers fills the book with plenty of background and tons of interesting stories and behind the scenes tidbits. I understand the focus of this book was on the "hell raising" of these talented men, however I do wish these exploits weren't always treated with such a light hand. Each of these men could have been the focus of a tragic tale as well and by playing off nearly all of their substance abuse issues with humorous stories or in a humorous manner does not, in fact, portray the whole story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2012

    Gossipy but fun

    Great book and a quick read. I was amazed that these men lived as long as they did! In the end, I came to admire the life they chose but only because they were honest about what they wanted. They did what they pleased but I couldn't have married any one of them. The biggest surprise is the turn around in O'Toole's life, and he is the only survivor of the group. Highly recommended for fans of Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2012

    Horrible and boring.

    I am a fan of these four and found nothing new here. The author used the word pissed about a million times. The book was erratic, jumping around. The author just glosses over stories. I cannot believe a publisher reviewed this mess before going to print. No pictures anywhere in the book. You will need a drink to get through this mess. IT COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH MORE....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2011

    Very informative

    A perfect example of drunken excess and self destruction at its finest

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  • Posted June 2, 2010

    beyond the booze, please

    In contrast to the idea that just because someone consumes seemingly endless quantities of alcohol resulting in various forms of crazy behavior, that person should stop drinking, I liked the author's relative objectivity regarding the drinkers he writes about in this book. However, I wish he would have gone beyond describing a series of happenings to some famous guys who drank, drank, drank. The subject offers many layers for consideration but, for the most part, this book read like one long introductory paragraph after another. I wish he would have crafted a creative thinkpiece by weaving a better connecting thread through it all and taken a risk with some kind of statement. Otherwise, what's the point?

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    Posted April 28, 2011

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    Posted February 28, 2013

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    Posted September 27, 2011

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