Daily Mail Weekend Article
Richard Harris was known as a fast-living womaniser,
until he fell in love with Ann Turkel.
Their marriage didn’t last, but their relationship did, and
they stayed close until his death last year.
Here, she tells Grace Bradberry about about life
with the tempestuous actor.
Portrait by Fergus Greer
Seeing Ann Turkel now, a beguiling tangle of hair, teeth and legs, it is not difficult to divine what might have attracted Richard Harris to the young Vogue model when they met on a film set in 1973. He was then a 43-year-old film star, divorced from his first wife, Elizabeth, the mother of his three children, and enjoying a wild second bachelorhood. That came to an end when he set eyes on Ann, who was 25 years his junior. They wed in 1974, but divorced eight years later. Neither ever remarried, and they remained close until his death in October last year.
‘For all intents and purposes, it was like a marriage,’ says Ann of their post-divorce relationship. ‘It was the same thing, except it was better because you were there because you wanted to be. I remember the last time he was here, he fell asleep right there on the sofa, with my spaniel Samantha stretched out on top of him.’ Ann still cannot believe she will never see her former husband again. She held his hand as he slipped away, after treatment for Hodgkin’s disease proved unsuccessful. Elizabeth and their three sons were on the other side of the bed.
Now. Ann’s relations with Richard’s first family, which have fluctuated over the years, appear to be at a low. Immediately after Richard’s death. Ann said hat they had exchanged a few words of love before he fell into a coma. She now says that the exchange never took place – she was just being tactful towards his family. The truth is that no one – not even the actor himself – told her that he was being treated for cancer at University College Hospital in London.
She says she only found out when she saw it on the news. By the time she reached his bedside he had already lost consciousness. Ann remains distraught that she was not told of Richard’s illness sooner. ‘I didn’t know where he was. I was told Richard didn’t want to worry me. The first person he called whenever there was anything going on was me.’ As she sat at the bedside, ‘They were all crying. It was like a wall had gone down, I was just so furious.
‘It’s a horrific thing not having spoken to him,’ she says. ‘I was told that no one was allowed to see him, yet Peter O’Toole and Sean Connery had both been to the hospital. I was told that if I came he would think he was going to die. But if half of Hollywood came to visit, wouldn’t he think he was going to die?’
For Ann, Richard’s death marked the end of a 30 year relationship. She had enjoyed a privileged upbringing, the daughter of wealthy New York Jewish parents, and became a model after an American Vogue editor spotted her playing in a teenage rock band. Before meeting Richard, she had dated David Niven Jr, son of the British actor, but she says she was still a naive young girl when she met Hams in Seattle, where the film 99 And 44/100% Dead was being shot.
‘From the beginning, there was something between us. I wouldn’t have even said that to myself, let alone anyone else, but it was just kind of there. One night he asked me if I wanted to have dinner with him.
‘I had just seen the film Lost Horizon with Ronald Colman and I had this thing for his voice. Richard could emulate it exactly and for the whole dinner he talked in that low drawling voice – “I’ve come here from Shangri-Laaaa.” Then he walked me to my room, kissed me on the forehead and said goodnight.’
A week into the shoot she had a day off, and could barely wait to see Richard at dinner. Sitting at the table with Raquel Welch and the film’s costume designer, she spotted Richard’s trailer being driven round. ‘Without thinking, I ran out, and Richard was hanging on the outside. He jumped down, ran to me, and threw his arms around me. He said, “I’ve missed you so much today.” It was like I couldn’t breathe.’ Over the coming weeks, Richard embarked on an old-fashioned courtship. He didn’t even kiss her on the lips until one night when they were back in Los Angeles and he walked her to her car.
‘The next morning we were sitting on the beach outside his house in Malibu and he started talking about what our children would look like. Then he spent the whole afternoon in his room. When I went in there I found crumpled pieces of paper everywhere. He said, “I’m writing to your parents for your hand in marriage.” Ultimately, he sent her parents several different versions clipped together. In one of them he wrote, ‘If Richard Harris ever came and asked to marry my daughter, I’d kick him out. But please don’t do that to me.’ Tender, charming, charismatic – this was the man Ann Turkel fell in love with. For her, it was a kind of fairy tale. As a child, her parents had taken her to see the film Camelot, in which Richard played King Arthur, and after the couple moved in together, Richard came across a picture of himself in that film, stuck into one of her childhood scrapbooks. But even before their marriage, there were one or two signs that she might have bitten off more than she could chew. A few weeks after they met, she threw a birthday party for him at a Beverly Hills restaurant. Exhausted after flying back from her grandfather’s funeral in New York, she left the party at one in the morning and went to lie down in the back of his car.
‘I woke up to find Richard’s friends putting him in the front seat and I said, “What’s wrong with him?” Richard just looked at me and said, “Who are you?” He’d put his fist through a mirror and was bleeding, so he was taken to hospital. That night Istayed on the couch in his den we still hadn’t slept together. I was quite shaken by it, but when he found me the following afternoon he said, “Please, don’t be frightened. This only happens once a year. So much builds up inside of me and I just have one big blowout.” I believed him.’ Later she would discover that, ‘Richard either didn’t drink at all or he drank to oblivion, and when he drank it was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It was toxic to him and completely changed his personality.’ With the exception of that one incident, he managed not to drink during the early months of their relationship.
After they married they lived in the Bahamas, where Richard had an old plantation house, and LA, but also spent time in Paris, London and New York. It was a peculiarly intense relationship, with Richard wanting to know her every thought. ‘I couldn’t understand why he’d want to marry me. He was so erudite and brilliant. But I guess for him I was like this lump of clay. He saw in me what he could mould.’
Early on in the marriage, she used to enjoy long, intimate conversations with her mother. ‘Richard wanted to put a stop to that. That left me with no one to confide in and at that point he became everything in my life.’ For a while, she was also everything in his life. ‘He had an addiction to me,’ she says. ‘I was like a surrogate daughter for him, but I was also this woman who was physically everything that he wanted. He always said, “I never have to look for a woman anywhere else because I have five women living in one person.”
Despite the public image of Richard as an extrovert and a roisterer, the couple spent a lot of time at home, watching TV. ‘Then we would take walks and do what Richard called “shop windowing”. ‘We’d walk past a shop and he’d say, “Let’s go in.” I wouldn’t see anything I liked, but he’d look at a rack of clothes and spot a great dress. Then he wanted to go out and show me off. I had to wear high heels because the taller I was and the more glamorous I looked, the more men desired me and the greater he felt. He created me in this image he had of the perfect woman.’
Richard, in turn, allowed Ann to give him a makeover. ‘I used to cut his hair in this Marlon Brando, Romanesque way. When we would go anywhere we would put this pancake tan on his face and I would dye his eyelashes. I got him into working out. After we were divorced he started to look so old. Idon’t know what happened to him in London – he just aged.’
Unfortunately, he was also capable of flying into rages. He hated these mood swings, she says, but was unable to control them. ‘His mind would just click. Things would just happen. He couldn’t turn it off.’
A psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants for Ann, and gave Richard tablets that would curb his mood swings, but when Ann stopped taking the pills, so did he. In an interview, Richard once remarked that he disliked psychiatry because ‘it neutralises you’. ‘The pills didn’t dull anything,’ says Ann. ‘He was just as creative and extraordinary.’ Had he been prepared to keep seeing a psychiatrist, she believes he would have enjoyed a fuller life and possibly a better career.
Of his 70 films, Richard used to joke that 60 were ‘c***’. During the 1970s, his career was in decline and he persisted in working with friends, rather than seeking out the best people. Ann says that the only films he was happy with were The Field, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway and Gladiator. He adored Gladiator star Russell Crowe, in whom he saw a younger version of himself, and would even go to social gatherings in London if Crowe had invited him. But Ann also noticed that he had lost interest in a lot of things.
‘As he got older he would say, “Who cares? It doesn’t matter” or, “Ah, that’s so Hollywood.” I think a lot of it was because he got overlooked. If it was something he cared about, he dealt with it by saying, “I don’t care.”
Not only did he not like playing the Hollywood game, she says, he was no good at it, either. ‘At parties he didn’t network, he just drank. That’s why the first years of our married life were spent at home. I knew that if we went out someone would hand him a drink and he would carry on drinking. Everybody would then get the man who was reciting Shakespeare, but I’d be the one left with the drunk.’ Mostly, she thinks, he drank to be more gregarious and entertaining. She could cope with occasional drinking bouts, but four years into their marriage Richard began using cocaine. ‘His moods worsened and fluctuated more, and he became more mercurial.’
Eventually, cocaine wasn’t enough and he started drinking with it. ‘If Richard had a business lunch he could disappear and I might not see him until two, three, four in the morning. Someone would bring him home and he’d be laid out sick as a dog for days. ‘On one occasion, he took cocaine then drank coffee, cola and alcohol. ‘He collapsed and we took him to hospital. He always said he was going to stop, but you need to accept that you have a problem and he never did.’ Dealing with his mood swings and binges began to affect Ann’s own health. She developed ulcers and felt continually on edge. Once, while Richard was shooting The Wild Geese with Richard Burton, she confided her troubles to Burton’s wife Suzy. ‘She was the only person who really understood what it was like being married to someone like Richard. You don’t know who you’re with. You end up walking on eggshells.’ et there were many things she loved about him, including his vulnerability. ‘Sometimes, when ‘ 4 he’d been drinking just a little, the’d curl up in my arms and be J rocked to sleep. But at other times I’d get the strong willed Richard. One was fighting against the other.’
There were other causes for sadness in their marriage. Ann became pregnant twice. The first time was just a year after the wedding when she was consumed with trying to handle Richard. She decided to have an abortion. Early on in her second pregnancy she began bleeding and was told by doctors to stay in bed for the next few months. ‘Richard was drinking a lot and he was on drugs. I was in pain 24 hours a day, which meant it was a bad foetus.’ Again she terminated the pregnancy. A few years later, in an interview, Richard mentioned that Ann had miscarried and said, ‘We never seemed to bother after that. Something was always missing between us.’
Ann insists that she cannot remember exactly how they came to call the lawyers, but says that divorce was a word that Richard brought up first. ‘It was one of those things that Richard was always throwing at me as an idle threat. “We’re going to get a divorce!” He was very verbose.’ She agreed not to file in California where she would have got half his estate, but in the Bahamas. ‘He said, “If you want me to remain your friend, then you’ll let us get divorced in the Bahamas, and you won’t take anything from me, and you’ll trust that I’ll always be there for you.” She says she didn’t take so much as a house. This is astonishing, especially when, in the late 1980s, Richard sold one of his Californian properties to Barbra Streisand for nearly $7 million. He had paid $400,000 for it.
If Ann feels at all sick about her generosity, she will not admit it. Her only regret is that she couldn’t keep their relationship together. ‘Part of me wishes I could have stayed in the marriage. The night before the divorce became final he said, “Just tell me, and I’ll phone the lawyers and call it off.” I thought, “If I don’t get out of this now, my health will never hold up.” What I said to him was, “Let’s get divorced and then you can court me again.” There’s a great part of me that meant that.’ After his divorce from Ann, Richard seems to have decided that, though he wanted women in his life, he didn’t want to be with someone permanently. She says that he would phone her to tell her about his love life – his post-marital conquests with famous actresses as well as to pass on gossip.
A couple of years ago, Richard told a mutual friend that Ann had been the love of his life. If she was his, then he was certainly hers. She says she could never have remarried while he was alive because he would have had to be present at the wedding and it would have devastated him. Elizabeth Harris did marry again, first to actor Rex Harrison and then to Peter Aitken (a cousin of Jonathan Aitken, whom Elizabeth married last week). Though Richard was not much good at marriage ‘I was the worst husband in the world,’ he once said he fared pretty well as an ex ending up with the affection of both his ex-wives.
Now, after Richard’s death, Ann is bereft. But her career looks to be taking off she appeared in Italian Vogue last July, has two lead film roles in the works, and has started up a production company with the British boxer-turned-actor Gary Stretch. But in her personal life, she grieves for the man she divorced 21 years ago, but whom she has never stopped loving.
Recently, she has been rereading his love letters to her, written right through the 1990s. She has also been sifting through old photographs and looking once again at the many gifts he gave her, including the Van Cleef & Arpels butterfly necklace she wore in their first film, and that he subsequently bought her. One of the later presents, given to her in 1994, is a tiny antique book, handwritten, with a Byzantine cover design. Inside it said, ‘To Ann, with all my love, Arthur.’ And whatever Richard Harris’s misdemeanours, that was always how she saw him.