Obituaries

Sybil Christopher; rebounded after noted divorce to start club

Richard Burton, with his wife, Sybil.

1955 Associated Press File

Richard Burton, with his wife, Sybil.

NEW YORK — The woman Richard Burton left to marry Elizabeth Taylor has died. Theater producer and nightclub founder Sybil Christopher was 83.

The New York Times reported that she died Thursday.

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The Welsh-born Ms. Christopher was Sybil Burton when Richard Burton, her first husband, left her for Taylor in 1963. The Taylor-Burton affair had sparked months of intense gossip.

She left California for New York, where she opened a nightclub in 1965 with backing from famous friends including Julie Andrews and Leonard Bernstein.

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They called it Arthur, she said, in honor of a George Harrison quip in the Beatles’ 1964 film, ‘‘A Hard Day’s Night.’’ After someone asked him the name of his hairstyle, he replied, ‘‘Arthur.’’

The club became a celebrity hangout, attracting artists such as Rudolph Nureyev, Lee Remick and Tennessee Williams as well as aristocrats like Princess Margaret of Britain. Ms. Christopher, once famous mainly for having lost her husband to another woman, had been transformed into a kind of avatar of new womanhood.

Ms. Christopher was ‘‘the heroine of the stickiest mess in the history of sticky messes,’’ Nora Ephron, then a feature writer for The New York Post, wrote in 1966. She had come through the ordeal with her dignity intact, her circle of friends enlarged, and a social presence in Manhattan that made her ‘‘the bellwether of a good party,’’ Ephron added,

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‘‘After the divorce,’’ she wrote, ‘‘it became clear that Sybil Burton was going to cut a fine swath for herself in New York City.’’

She married Jordan Christopher, the lead singer of the club’s house band, in 1966.

Ms. Christopher founded the Bay Street Theater on Long Island in 1991 and was its artistic director for 22 years.

She leaves three daughters, including actress Kate Burton.

Material from The New York Times and Associated Press was used in this obituary.
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