Hellraisers is the enjoyable 2008 book by Robert Sellers, subtitled The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. The review in the Los Angeles Times said “An incredibly entertaining series of anecdotes interspersed with unpretentious and conversational interviews all about drinking.” The review in Playboy said “A portrait of four profoundly flawed yet awesome leading men, as well as a window into the time when glamour was sacrosanct and when stardom was achieved rather than manufactured.”
The book is more than just a careless endorsement of bad behavior, as Sellers does not neglect the down side of their lifestyles. He certainly addresses all the failed relationships, bad marriages and neglected children. We are also presented with the context of their mostly humble beginnings, before digging into their glory years in chapters titled “The Plastered 50s, “The Soused 60s,” and “The Sozzled 70s.” The book inevitably concludes with the relative sobriety of their later years (except for Ollie who remained a Hellraiser to the very end.)
Many of the delicious anecdotes Sellers gathers showcase partying with other big league boozers such as Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, Keith Moon and Lee Marvin. Heavy drinking was never a solitary activity. There are also many amusing encounters with their co-stars and other big stars, including Julie Andrews, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Katharine Hepburn, Charlton Heston, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Mitchum, David Niven, John Wayne, Raquel Welch and Shelley Winters.
God put me on this Earth to raise sheer hell – Richard Burton
I adored getting drunk and I adored reading in the papers what I had done the night before – Richard Harris
Booze is the most outrageous of all drugs, which is why I chose it – Peter O’Toole
You meet a better class of persons in pubs – Oliver Reed
If you drink it straight down you can actually feel it gong into each intestine – Richard Burton
I never touch a drop when I’m happy. But it’s a well known fact that Irishmen are never happy. – Richard Harris
I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one’s local in Paris, and wake up in Corsica – Peter O’Toole
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 – Oliver Reed
Richard, for Christ’s sake, have a drink. You’re so boring when you don’t have a drink in your hand – Elizabeth Taylor
The best that you can do when you are drunk is to meet your mates, have a lot of giggles, break glass, kick people, and get into trouble – Peter O’Toole
It was no classified secret that Richard Burton’s devotion to the bottle was almost religious, and his capacity was one of the wonders of the 20th century. If the Atlantic Ocean was made of whisky, Richard could have been able to walk across. – Alan Jay Lermer, lyricist of Camelot
Burton on his own could match anyone for the sheer quantity he drank, he and Liz together were a formidable team. Many friends attest to the fact that she was the heavier drinker. Burton enjoyed boasting that he could drink any man under the table, but not necessarily every woman.
O’Toole, Burton and I all drank to excess, not because we had problems, but because we loved it. – Richard Harris.
When he wanted to, he could hit the bottle like no one I knew – James Coburn on Richard Harris
I do enjoy letting myself go once in awhile, and waking up in someone else’s garden, or in a police station. – Richard Harris
I loved the excitement of my drinking days. Life is made from such memories, which is a pity because I don’t remember much. But I’ve entertained the world. – Richard Harris
I don’t like actors. I find them fucking boring. I’m more interested in my barman, and the scotch he’s got for me, than some actor rambling on about his next film – Richard Harris
Richard Harris joked that he’d formed a new group. Alcoholics Unanimous. If you don’t feel like a drink, you ring up another member and he comes over and persuades you.
The liquor industry went into a panic when they heard I wasn’t drinking anymore – Richard Harris in the 80s. In the 90s he did return to the booze but only moderately, having a glass of Guinness, which remained his daily companion to the day he died.
Look at a photograph of me from my old days and I’m going to my film premiere with a bottle of vodka in my hand. Now Tom Cruise has a bottle of Evian water. That’s the difference. – Richard Harris.
We weren’t solitary, boring, drinkers sipping vodka alone in some room. No, no, no. We went out on the town, baby, and we did our drinking in public. We had fun. – Peter O’Toole
O’Toole’s favorite pub in Stratford was The Dirty Duck, where he broke the house record by downing a yard of ale (2 1/2 pints) in 40 seconds.
I like booze because it anesthetizes pain and makes everything a little less nightmarish. Another thing. I’ve only ever met decent men at the barrelhead. – Peter O’Toole
What could be better than waking up and asking yourself how the hell did I get to Marseilles? I used to cry with laughter. – Peter O’Toole.
Humphrey Bogart was my kind of man. If you challenged him to put his hand through a plate glass window, he’d do it. And keep on drinking with the other hand. – Richard Burton
It used to amaze me seeing Burton at 7 in the morning drinking beer, he’d drink beer all morning long. By the time we finished for the day. he would have had a case of beer. Then he’d shift into high gear. He started into that tequila and man, you’d never know he had a drink. – Tom Shaw, assistant director on The Night of the Iguana (1964), filmed in Puerto Vallarta.
Burton had arrived to work on The Klansman (1974) drunk and he stayed drunk throughout filming, consuming three bottles of vodka a day, a routine he had been following for the past six months.
He just hated life without drinking – crewman on the set of Ellis Island (1984)
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 I’d be brave enough to drink myself into the grave. – Oliver Reed
He could drink 20 pints of lager, with a gin or crème de menthe chaser and still run a mile on a wager. – David Hemmings on Oliver Reed
It’s impossible for me to go into a pub without having a few problems. It’s a bit like The Gunfight at the OK Corral every time. There’s always someone who wants to take me on. – Oliver Reed
I do not live in the world of sobriety. – Oliver Reed
Most interviews with Oliver Reed were either conducted in pubs or hotel bars. The journalist was under obligation not just to drink, but to drink to excess.
In Toronto filming The Brood (1979), Oliver Reed was guilty of wrecking a pub. He challenged the bar’s regular drinkers to an arm wrestling competition that descended into a fist fight. Arrested, he spent a night in jail.
Oliver Reed was arrested for being drunk and disorderly while filming Parting Shots (1999) , “but we haven’t charged him because he was so charming,”
While filming The Gladiator in May 1999, Oliver Reed downed 12 double measures of rum, and then retreated to his more accustomed double whiskeys. He soon fell asleep, but became unresponsive, and he died in the hospital the next day.
For further reading, Sellers has a sequel, Hollywood Hellraisers: The Wild Lives and Fast Times of Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson (2010).