In her latest single, Taylor Swift harkens back to one of Hollywood’s most epic love stories — for good reason.
The Grammy winning singer recently released her new song “…Ready For It?” — an upbeat track driven by a dominating baseline and seemingly filled with adoring references to her new love, Joe Alwyn.
“He can be my jailor/Burton to this Taylor/Every love I’ve known in comparison is a failure,” Swift talk-sings over the catchy beat.
With a love first born of scandalous infidelity on the 1961 set of Cleopatra, Taylor and Burton courted, married, divorced, re-wed, and split again over the next 14 years. They also made 11 films together, but it was their off-screen sparks that made them the talk of Hollywood.
Read on to find out why the turbulent lovers inspired Swift’s latest hit.
On the set of Cleopatra in Rome in 1961, Taylor was drawn to Burton, the rough-edged Welsh actor who played Mark Antony and whose passion for life and love equaled her own.
But it came with huge scandal: She was married to fourth husband Eddie Fisher (who had left Debbie Reynolds for her) — and he to first wife Sybil Williams.
Burton and Taylor on Cleopatra
Taylor and Burton became the gold standard for larger-than-life celebrity unions. “They were the most famous people in the world,” their friend, British journalist Sir David Frost, told Vanity Fair in 2003. “And the chemistry between them was real.”
The commotion around their relationship feels like a precedent for Swift’s own headline-dominating loves, including her summer whirlwind with Tom Hiddleston in 2016. Now with Alwyn, Swift has taken a much different approach and kept absolutely mum on her almost year-long relationship with the London-born actor.
“My God she’s a beauty,” Burton wrote in his diary. “Sometimes even now, after 8 years of marriage, I look at her when she’s asleep at the first light of a grey dawn and wonder at her.”
After their passionate meeting in 1962, Burton and Taylor married for the first time two years later in Montreal, after divorcing their respective spouses. That marriage lasted 10 years, and it was filled with drunken bouts, expensive jewels and overwhelming love.
“I have been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth,” Burton wrote. “She has turned me into a moral man but not a prig…she can tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her, and she loves me! She is a prospectus that can never be entirely catalogued …And I’ll love her ’till I die.”
Their 1964 wedding
On Broadway in 1964
But as passionately in love as the two were, they often clashed, which eventually led to their first divorce in 1974. The dissolution of the marriage affected Burton so deeply that he stopped writing in his journals through that time.
It wouldn’t last long — Burton and Taylor were re-married in Botswana in 1975. Although it was only for a short nine-months, their reunion prompted Burton to pick up a pen again and express his bursting love for the actress.
“Got shamefully sloshed and despite all my idiocies—nasty too—we are as happy as children,” Burton wrote shortly after his second marriage to Taylor in 1975. “We catch our breaths every so often and say with a kind of smiling wonder and delight ‘Hey! Do you realize we are actually married?’ E cured me with loving even lavish attention…This is a far better marriage than the first.”
In 1967’s The Taming of the Shrew — one of their 11 films together
“If we had a fight, it was so pumped up by the press,” Taylor told PEOPLE in 2006. “It was nothing like what actually happened. Sorry to disappoint people.”
Burton and Taylor’s legendary marriages are only overshadowed by their explosive breakups. Tales of fighting and outlandish spending dominated the press throughout their marriages and dissolutions.
“Most of the time it was lovely to be in their company,” Burton‘s brother Graham Jenkins told PEOPLE in 1996. But when they were fighting, “he’d call on his tremendous command of the English language to conjure up the most devastating insults.”
The two first split in 1974 after 10 years and Burton’s adoption of their two children, Maria and Liza. “You can’t keep clapping a couple of dynamite sticks together without expecting them to blow up,” Burton told reporters after announcing the first separation.
Their second marriage in 1975 was doomed by their continued struggles with alcohol and ended even quicker than the separation did in 1976.
Still, Taylor never stopped loving him. The best time of her life, she told PEOPLE in 1999, “was when Richard and I were married, and the kids were babies, and we lived like a pack of gypsies.”