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Sybil Christopher Dies; Richard Burton’s Ex-Wife Ran Nightclubs, Produced Theater (Update)

Richard Burton famously left Sybil Christopher for Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, but his ex-wife went on to be a successful night club owner and theater producer

Sybil Christopher, the wife that Richard Burton famously left for Elizabeth Taylor, has died. She was 83. 

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Long Island's Bay Street Theatre, which Christopher co-founded and served as artistic director for 22 years, announced her death last week, but did not specify the cause. Murphy Davis, a co-director of the theatre and one of Christopher's close friends, told TheWrap on Tuesday that she passed away March 7.

Also read: Elizabeth Taylor Dies at 79

Born Sybil Williams on March 27, 1929 in South Wales, she attended the London Academy of Dramatic Arts and went on to act in the 1949 picture "The Last Days of Dowlyn," where she met her first husband, Richard Burton.

The couple had two daughters, Kate Burton — a successful actress currently starring in ABC's "Scandal" — and Jessica Burton, before Burton's much-publicized affair with Taylor, who was then married to singer Eddie Fisher, on the set of "Cleopatra." The Burtons were divorced in 1963.

After the scandal, Christopher packed up her children and moved from Southern California to New York City, where she opened a very successful Manhattan night club, called Arthur, in 1965. The club, which became a celebrity hot spot hosting regulars like Tennessee Williams, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, was named after George Harrison's hairstyle as he described it in the Beatles’ 1964 film, “A Hard Day’s Night.” When someone asked what the name of his hairstyle was, he answered, "Arthur."

Christopher traded in her second surname for a third when she married Jordan Christopher, the lead singer of her club's house band, in 1966. The following year, Christopher gave birth to her third daughter, Amy Christopher.

After Arthur closed in 1969, Christopher returned her attention to the dramatic arts and helped found the New Theater on 54th Street. In the '80s, she moved back to Los Angeles where she worked at ICM as a literary agent for eight years.

In yet another new beginning, she teamed up with Emma Walton and Stephen Hamilton in 1991 to turn an old Long Island warehouse along the Sag Harbor Bay into the Bay Street Theatre, which attracted top New York talent to star in summer productions and has become a staple of the region.

Christopher was the theatre's artistic director from its inception until stepping down in March of 2012. Eager to get out of the country and back to the city, she left Sag Harbor for Manhattan last September.

"She was a real New York City animal," Murphy fondly recalled.

Christopher is survived by two daughters from her first marriage, as well as daughter Amy and step-daughter Jody from her second marriage.

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