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

3.62  ·  Rating Details  ·  647 Ratings  ·  130 Reviews
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. They got aw ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 8th 2009 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published May 29th 2008)
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Apr 10, 2010 Caitlin rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
This is an odd book. It's basically a collection of anecdotes from the drinking lives of four amazing actors. The anecdotes pretty much follow one basic form: Person X got really drunk, did something stupid, doesn't remember it, doesn't regret it. There is a slight variation where Person X remembers it and regrets it, but this variation doesn't occur often. It's slightly different for each man - with Richard Harris and Oliver Reed there is a fight of some kind, with Richard Burton there is also ...more
Kit Fox
Apr 27, 2010 Kit Fox rated it really liked it
If you think you drink a lot, well, you probably do. But if you think you drink a lot compared to these cinematic icons, then it's a miracle that you haven't been in a coma since 1987. Utterly insane tales of drunken debauchery from some of your favorite actors is what this book sets out to provide, and for the most part, succeeds in. Personally, I wish that there was more info regarding what happened on specific films (only two bloody paragraphs on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold ?!), but th ...more
Sep 14, 2011 Debra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: just-a-book
This book wore me out. Just reading about the frenetic pace at which these men lived their lives was exhausting.

Yes, I feel like I know a lot more about these men when I finished the book than I did when I started - was any of it anything I really needed to know? I'm not sure.

More than the endless repetitive stories of boozing and brawling, I would have enjoyed reading about their careers - but that's not what this book was designed to be.

The book served it's purpose well - to tell us about the
Mar 08, 2010 Beverly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: waste-of-time
A totally uninteresting boring recount of 4 men who spent most of their lives in a drunken stupor. While they claim to love life, they were so drunk that they did not remember much of theirs, and caused a great deal of distress to many people around them both known and unknown. It quickly becomes a very tiresome read.
Lee Anne
Just about what I thought it would be: capsule reviews of the lives of four of the British Isles' greatest actors and drinkers. And if it occasionally feels repetitive, in a "then he made this movie, and drank this, and wrecked this bar/hotel/etc.," it still reminded me of some great performances in some great movies (Harris in "Unforgiven," for example). There is also plenty of talk about wasted talent, but each, for the most part, gave interviews in which they admitted they loved every minute ...more
Dec 23, 2011 Barney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Only one of these men is left alive, which is a pity. One may be able to tell a lot about how these men lived by how they died.

Richard Harris was living in the Savoy Hotel when he died of Hodgkins disease. As he was being wheeled out on a stretcher to an ambulance, he propped himself up on emaciated elbows and shouted "It's the food! Don't touch the food!" (270)

On May 2, 1999 while filming Gladiator in Malta, Oliver Reed was leaving a pub when he spotted a group of Royal Navy sailors. Reed "bel
May 26, 2010 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tales of wretched excess: these actors spent most of their days drunk as skunks getting into all kinds of mischief--much of which they couldn't remember. But they all made indelible marks during the 50's, 60's, and 70's when they were in their heyday. A lot of what went on with these guys (Richard Burton, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris and lone survivor, Peter O'Toole)off stage caused bruises on my chin from my jaw dropping so often (and I felt a bit woozy from all the vicarious boozing)--but after ...more
Oct 21, 2010 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
If there was a Mount Rushmore for drunks, these guys would be on it, probably along with Liz Taylor. Anecdotes out the wazoo on the drinking lives of these guys, and a lot of it gets repetitive at times, especially with Oliver Reed's antics. I just thought I knew what a heavy drinker was, until I read this book. Whew! Somewhat sad and sobering but it also had numerous belly laughs throughout. Reading this was like seeing a bad train or car accident. You know you shouldn't but you just can't keep ...more
While I enjoyed the tidbits of Hollywood stars gossip on some of my favorite actors (not just the main four on the cover but many others as well), for the most part this book was just "he got drunk, he did damage, he didn't learn his lesson, he drank again." Sure, that was essentially the point of a book about four alcoholics, so we shouldn't be surprised. I did like how it covered their movie careers in chronological order, but I would have loved more details about the making of those movies. G ...more
Aug 13, 2015 Sandi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating group biography that is really engrossing. It is marred by some major critical omissions: while virtually every page is full of direct quotes, there are no footnotes or end notes, nor is there any list of interviews from which these quotes were taken. ALSO, there's no bibliography. Why??

What is amazing about Burton, O'Toole, Harris, and Reed, is how much they were allowed to get away with legally. Even the police seemed intimidated by them--or by their fame, and actions tha
Feb 25, 2015 Joanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It can be a disappointment to read about famous people when they are defined by one aspect of their lives. While it was obvious from page 1 that the intention of this book was to highlight the hellraising of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed, it became tedious. Too many bars, too many anonymous shags, too many fights: after a while it simply became boring. All four men were more than the booze. However, the last couple of chapters were more engrossing. Their final yea ...more
Not a very dignified read, and the anecdotes of drunken mischief get numbing after a while. But if you have any affection for one or more of these gentlemen, you might get something out of it.
LAPL Reads
Feb 01, 2014 LAPL Reads rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When this book was published in 2009, Peter O'Toole was, as noted in the title of the last chapter, "Last Man Standing," and now all four men are gone. This is about how four handsome, enormously talented men who caroused away their assets with alcohol, drugs, gambling, scores of women, and behavior so outrageous, even compared with today's tell-and-show-all celebrity antics, that at relatively early ages they were shells of what they had been--robust manly men. Quite frankly and openly they did ...more
R.G. Evans
Sep 12, 2010 R.G. Evans rated it it was ok
A Welshman, a Brit, and two Irishmen walk into a bar . . . . Robert Sellers's book on the drunken exploits of Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed often reads like a series of jokes and punchlines--probably because of Sellers's past as a standup comic. If you want credible biographies of these great men, look elswhwere. If you're looking for entertaining apocryphal anecdotes, this is the book for you.
Apr 04, 2010 Nette rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is nothing but 350 pages of anecdotes, but it was darned entertaining. My life has been enriched now that I know that Peter O'Toole once smuggled a pair of valuable earrings out of Egypt in his foreskin.
Feb 19, 2014 Justin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a delight this book was. I actually 'page by paged' this one, no audiobook available.
Oh yes, it's sooooo politically incorrect to idolize these Mad Men and how they conducted themselves throughout the 60s and 70s, but as Richard Harris says in my favorite and the most profound quote from the book: as he describes it, "grabbing life by the balls", and having fun with the life he has, he said, "People spend the first half of their lives being cautious and the second half regretting it."
High Wycombe Library
When reading the stories of Richard Burton, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole, you are whisked away into a world of showbiz, lust and most of all, drink. Robert Sellers tells us through various tales how these 4 stars of a bygone age earned their title of “Hellraiser”. Very funny, and very tragic in some cases. A recommended read. ^OJ

If you liked Hellraisers>/a> why not try:
Evil Spirits by Cliff Goodwin
Dear Boy by Tony Fletcher
A Man Called Harris by Michael Sheridan & Ant
Apr 07, 2016 Kristen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-non-fiction
Man, oh man! What a story. Or, rather, stories, since the book chronicles the wild lives of four of the best know actors of their era.

All four of these men were in their heydays mostly before I was even born, so while I am familiar with their movies, with the exception of Richard Burton - because it's virtually impossible for anyone who was, is or ever will be a film buff to not at least come across the train-wreck that was his life with Elizabeth Taylor - I had no idea just HOW wild the lives o
Dec 07, 2015 M.J. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Seller’s four-person biography, Hellraisers, is a curiously empty book of anecdotes that achieves its promise to report on the drunken lives of its subjects without judgement, but also fails as a book because of how faithfully it keeps this commitment.

“Who doesn’t love a good drunken story?” Is the question Seller’s book seems to ask, and for the most part the reader will have to nod along in agreement. Are they all true? Perhaps that doesn’t matter, so long as they are entertaining? And, for a
Gene Kannenberg Jr
A complicated book about complicated people.

In Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed, author Robert Sellers gives us the lives of four of the UK's greatest actors and wildest partiers of the twentieth century. Not their complete biographies, of course (the book is far too brief to encompass four lives completely). After brief childhood histories, Sellers dives into the meat of his book: Stories of drinking, carousing, and gen
Jun 26, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bri
Recommended to Lisa by: Nik
The kind of book that makes you feel hungover just reading it, this is a fitting and funny tribute to four great hellraisers - Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed (along with cameos from a few other notorious cohorts).

Refusing to sit in judgement, this instead regales you with tales of boozy antics, much as the protagonists themselves might have done down the pub (if they could remember said antics).

Sharing not only a love of the bottle but colossal egos, rivers of tale
Dec 10, 2010 Ian rated it liked it
Strung together as a parallel biography of the four protagonists but focussing more on their hellrasing antics this is a barnstoming read.Sometimes it does feel like it was cobbled together from four individual biographies but it is entertaining. It also leaves one with some rather mixed feelings about the hellrasers in the acting profession (and there is a wide supporting cast to the four leads). Is it a tragedy that they lost some of their best years to the bottle or is it just that it was par ...more
Jonathon Dabell
I enjoyed Hellraisers and read it very quickly. Why, then, do I not give it a higher rating? Four stars... or perhaps even the mighty five-star rating? The answer lies in the fact that it becomes rather too repetitive towards the end and seems to make half-hearted attempts to point out the dangers of alcohol abuse after spending the best part of 250 pages revelling in the drunken antics of its four subjects.
The book traces the lives and careers of four of the most well-known hellraisers to have
Nov 12, 2012 jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Four bios in one- Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed, collectively the bad boys of British film and theatre. Acting is littered with bad behavior, but these four men were not chosen at random. They were drinkers of astounding proportions, of daily quantities that would kill most people and many elephants. The years of drunkenness combined with fame, money and the entitlement they bring led to decades of infamy for each: public brawls, broken marriages, arrests, public ...more
John Wilson
Mar 30, 2012 John Wilson rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
After getting the initial "they were born here" and "their families were like this" bits out of the way, its just one anecdote after another - chronologically by decade - of their boozing, carousing, sleeping around, punch ups and the resulting effect (usually negative) to their respective acting careers. But that's okay, 'cuz that's why you buy the book in the first place, although a quick search on youtube for "letterman peter o'toole camel" reveals that sometimes the stories might be fudged a ...more
Mark Singer
Jun 02, 2010 Mark Singer rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, acting
Not your typical biography, "Hellraisers" is the story of four famous British (I use the term "British" at its loosest - Burton was Welsh, Harris and O'Toole were Irish, and Reed was English) actors notorious for their boozing, partying, womanizing and fighting. The book reads like one long anecdote of thespian misbehavior, and by the time I was finished I wondered how any of the four managed to stand on stage in front of an audience or in front of a film camera without falling over in a drunken ...more
I can't deny I enjoyed this - but in the same way one enjoys a slightly inebriated evening with the local village gossips; that is, it's not exactly time well spent, and you're liable to end up with a bad taste in your mouth.

The author here pays a certain amount of lip-service to the inevitable bad effects of long-term promiscuity and drunkenness, but that's what it is - lip-service. And now I'm coming off as a most terrible prude, which I'm not. As a collection of anecdotes, it's very amusing;
I had no idea this book existed until I came across it perusing the biography section at my library but I was thrilled when I saw it--I am currently on a Richard Burton binge/obsession and I adore Oliver Reed so I was pretty sure I would enjoy this. It's a very entertaining book--tabloid-y but entertaining. I did not know a lot about Richard Harris so he's probably the one I learned the most about but the sections on Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed were also pretty informative. The sections on Ric ...more
Jan 05, 2014 William rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had hopes there would be more to this book than a bunch of sordid episodes from the acting lives of Burton, O'Toole, Harris and Reed. But that's just what it is. While some of these are well told and mildly entertaining, they are also appalling and, at times, not at all trustworthy. If you were in a bar listening to all these stories, you might nod your head and laugh occasionally, but your eyes would glaze over after awhile, not from the booze but boredom. I have no doubt of some of the explo ...more
May 02, 2010 KC rated it it was ok
Somewhat disappointing read. Filled in with stories of other actors who were drinking with/without the main four actors when he didn't seem to find enough to say about them. Bad construction and fact checking a bit off. At one point he comments that Bogart was the only one NOT to get sick on the African Queen shoot because he was such a drinker. When the fact is that Kate Hepburn was the only one who DID get sick because she wasn't. That's just the most glaring one. But more than once I found my ...more
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