Burton drank and drank a lot. The New York Times reports that he “could put aside half a gallon of cognac or 100 proof vodka” when performing on stage. (Alcohol slows reaction times, which sounds like bad news to anyone performing “The Tempest” in front of a crowded theater. But moderate drinking also seems to improve verbal creativity.) Interview on BBC talk show “Parkinson’s” in 1974 , Burton claimed he went through times when he drank two or three bottles of liquor a day, enough to end a normal human life. These periods were marked by suicidal depression. (The interview is available on YouTube.) He could have quoted (via Sparknotes) one of Shakespeare’s characters: “All my fame for a pot of ale …”
Burton’s fight against alcohol was never over. In 1981 he stopped drinking altogether and called it “worse than cancer”. But within a few years he had picked it up again. The sturdy former rugby player was beginning to appear in public, looking frail with a sagging, gaunt face. The fact that he smoked more than five packs of cigarettes a day probably didn’t help either (according to Buffalo News).
On August 5, 1984, Burton died in his adopted country of Switzerland of a cerebral haemorrhage, a sudden ailment caused indirectly by years of alcohol abuse. He was 58 years old.