Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed is not a great book. Author Robert Sellers appears to have just assembled various anecdotes, the seamier the better, in a loose chronology. And that's it. No insight into the characters of the four actors, or the British stage or screen, or Hollywood. The only thing slightly analytical comes from some quotes by the actors:
"Burton, Harris, O'Toole [and] Reed ...shared the common experience of being war babies, of being bombed, of being evacuated, of facing compulsory service ... there was rationing: no meat, no food and no booze. ...'Bollocks,' railed O'Toole. 'We ... wanted the roaring twenties, please. The ... drinking was a liberation from the fear and restrictions of the war years. The frivolity and the fun had gone. Booze was a way of recapturing it. We certainly had a bloody good time.'"
The joyful inebriation that O'Toole described was probably intended by the author, but reading about drunks is not the next best thing to being there. One drunken story after another does get to wear a bit thin. How many times do we need to read about Reed throwing a table through a pub window or Harris trying to get into a barroom brawl? Their constant state of inebriation gets as tedious for the reader as it must have done for the (sober) people in the actors' lives. After twenty years of carousing, each man's health started to fail, and the drinking got a bit much for them (excluding Oliver Reed who was out looking for a party until the end.) From Richard Harris, talking about Richard Burton, " ... the stories he tells [about their prior meetings] are hilarious and totally unprintable. So what's the point of doing things that only other people get a kick out of? ... After all, your life is your memories. So what life have I had?"
In chapters like "The Plastered Fifties," "The Soused Sixties," "The Sozzled Seventies," a decade's worth of drinking stories jump from actor to actor, but Sellers never attempts any thematic relation, even when the actors' paths cross. Burton and O'Toole were great pals, but we only know that because Sellers repeats one of them saying so and mentions a few episodes of their carrying-on. Harris also palled around with Burton. Reed seems to have traveled in completely different circles, hanging out with rock star Keith Moon and director Ken Russell, and making completely different kinds of films from the other three. Does he really even belong as part of this quartet or in this book?