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

Hellraisers by Robert Sellers
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's review
Apr 03, 2010

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bookshelves: 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 Elizabeth Taylor (who drank as much or more than he did), and with Peter O'Toole there is always a bon mot. In the end the endless repetition of dumb activities reads like a great advertisement for a 12-step program - the pursuit of fun is all so desperate and boring and soulkilling. I'm a bit undecided as to whether or not this reaction is by design or not - the author is so absent and deadpan it's difficult to know what he might think.

I was reminded of reading Touched with Fire, Kay Redfield Jamison's study of artists and bipolar disease. She neatly punctures the idea that madness and art are romantically and inextricably intertwined and instead dares to wonder how much these individuals might have accomplished had they not suffered from depression. Anyone who has ever been through a severe depression knows that there's nothing romantic or even remotely creative about it. When getting out of bed is your biggest achievement for the day it's hard to produce anything other than tears. I was left to wonder what they all might have been without the booze. It's telling that Peter O'Toole, the only one forced to quit drinking due to health concerns, is the only one of the four still alive.
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