Unique graphic novel stars hard drinking actors Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed

There was the time Richard Harris was drinking in a pub with his new friend, Robert Mitchum. An aggressive man intruded and demanded an autograph from Mitchum, who took the proffered book and signed it, "Up your arse - Kirk Douglas." Another time Harris and Peter O'Toole bumped into each other going into a building to meet the same girl. They decided to have a contest: first one to reach the girl's balcony by climbing side-by-side drainpipes would get the girl. O'Toole won, because Harris's drainpipe broke, sending him tumbling into the alley. And then there's the time O'Toole went drinking with Peter Finch, and when the pub owner told them it was closing time and he'd have to cut them off, O'Toole wrote a an outrageously large check to the barkeep to buy the pub so the pair could continue drinking (the next morning, O'Toole raced to the bank to stop the check before the pub owner could cash it).

These are just three of the dozens of alcohol-fuel exploits recounted in the darkly funny Hellraisers: A Graphic Biography, which is based on Robert Sellers' book, Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed. The story is perfectly rendered by illustrator JAKe, who has the ability to draw uncanny likenesses of the actors with thick, raw, and seemingly haphazard lines of ink. The storyline itself is hallucinatory, like a severe case of the DTs, with scenes from movies dissolving into boozed and drugged reality. I credit Sellers and JAKe's skills for the fact that I never once got lost or confused while reading this very experimental graphic novel. In the hands of less talented creators, this book would be a boring mess. But it's the exact opposite.

After witnessing the four flameouts, I was left wondering why these four actors, who had so much going for them, ruined their lives by indulging in herculean binges of alcohol and drugs, and deeply hurting their friends, wives, and children through abuse, neglect, and infidelity? In his introduction, Sellers' answer is that they didn't believe that they'd ruined their lives. "These were men who enjoyed life better with a drink in their hand."

Hellraisers: A Graphic Biography


  1. The picture on the right – Peter O’Toole?  If so, someone’s gone to a great deal of trouble to find a photo that looks absolutely nothing like him.

  2. Talk of talented people “indulging in herculean binges of alcohol” but didn’t think they ruined their lives because they liked it reminded me of comments attributed to the dazzling 60s footballer George Best: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered” and “In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”

  3. Bizarrely, 17 Oscar nominations between them, not a single win (unless you count O’Toole’s ‘honorary’ one…)

  4. Too lazy to look it up…. Which one was the well-endowed “drink dipper,” O’Toole or Harris? (One of those two was notorious for making a laff by sidling up to a table in a club and dunking his dick in a martini glass. Kinda like a next-gen Milton Berle when it came to being proud of his gear.)

  5. Mark, I’m curious about the photo of O’Toole.  I’ll assume it’s from the book.  Is there a date on it?  Possibly his early twenties? 

  6. And then there’s the time O’Toole went drinking with Peter Finch, and when the pub owner told them it was closing time and he’d have to cut them off, O’Toole wrote a an outrageously large check to the barkeep to buy the pub so the pair could continue drinking (the next morning, O’Toole raced to the bank to stop the check before the pub owner could cash it).

    Bwaahahahahahah, I can totally see O’Toole dong that : D

    BTW, I can see the resemblance if I squint… are people having trouble recognising him because he’s actually young in that shot?

    1. I think most people think of Young Peter O’Toole as how he looked in Lawrence of Arabia (myself included), especially since that was his star-making debut, but he was already 30 when that came out. 

      I’ve seen one of the three 1960 films he was in before that, The Day They Robbed The Bank of England, and he looks pretty much the same as in Lawrence (slightly less sun-affected, perhaps, but it’s not a big difference). So there’s no record in cinema of him when he actually looked as young as in this photo.

  7. I worked in the film industry for years and was able to work on a film in Toronto with Peter O’Toole,  He was just as you would expect:  If his call time was 7 am, he would show up around 930, it was quite expensive to have the crew waiting around for hours, so the AD’s devised a clever plan.  There would be two callsheets, one for the cast and crew and one for Ot’Toole.  If his calltime was noon, they would give him a callsheet with a 1000 call time for H/M/W.  They got the picture made.

    1. I’ve often said about my own father that he saw himself as a cross between Hugh Hefner and Andy Warhol, but he was really a cross between Homer Simpson and Ted Bundy. Addicts may try to project a devil may care persona, but if you look close up, they’re just desperate and depressing.

        1. One of the truly awful things about addiction is that the chemical often becomes a crutch for insecurity, but actually ends up exacerbating your insecurities. I came face to face with this situation in a big way this weekend — even two or three drinks dramatically brings my insecurities to the surface, and makes me respond to things in an entirely different (and altogether less pleasant/balanced) way.

          It’s tough. If you’re not an addict, count your blessings. If you are — god help ya. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have a very good support network of friends and family. Not everyone is so lucky.

  8. Why did they do it? Pretty simple, actually. It’s called alcoholism/addiction. It’s pretty common. Sure, when it’s famous, glamorous people, we call it “hard drinking” and not “alcoholism,” but it’s the same thing. Our culture is quite tolerant of alcoholism, and it’s very very rare for people to comfortably acknowledge about themselves, friends, family members, or famous personalities.

    I just had to explain to my mom that being an alcoholic means when I’ve had one or two drinks, it’s extraordinarily difficult to resist the third, fourth, fifth… Unless you are one of these people, you won’t get it, probably. And you’ll ask, why didn’t they just stop at one or two or whatever? Again, you either understand it (sorry) or you don’t (consider yourself very, very lucky).

    But yeah — whenever I hear about “hard drinking” people, or people who “appreciate a good drink,” in many of those circumstances, to me, it’s pretty obvious we’re talking about alcoholics.

    1. Thanks, Robert.  The left eyebrow and his ears stayed pretty much the same over the years… that and his droll expression. 

      I was sorry to hear he had retired.  I remember seeing him in both ‘Lawrence’ and ‘Becket’ at the drive-in, as a child.  I once picked up a magazine in a coffee shop while on vacation.  In it was a long interview with O’Toole that was so interesting, that for an hour the rest of the world ceased to exist for me.  My coffee got cold and I didn’t look up till I had finished the last word.  When I finally looked up, I told my husband, ‘that has to be one of the best interviews I’ve ever read.’

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