Iconic film actress during the apex of Hollywood’s golden era and social activist Elizabeth Taylor has died at age 79 after a prolonged illness. The actress enjoyed worldwide fame during her career, starring opposite a remarkable A-list of talents over six decades of memorable screen roles which Taylor would stamp upon the imaginations and hearts of loyal fans around the globe. Taylor’s personal life was no less renowned or scrutinized with a string of eight unsuccessful marriages, repeated health scares and penchant for collecting wildly expensive jewelry. The celebrity Taylor found in films at a very early age proved as much a benefit to her career as a frequent bane to her well-being.
Elizabeth Taylor’s sophisticated visage of glamor and lavender eyes dazzled movie audiences for decades in high-profile, sometimes controversial films like NATIONAL VELVET, LITTLE WOMEN, A PLACE IN THE SUN, GIANT, RAINTREE COUNTY, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. The actress earned her fourth Academy Award nomination and first Oscar for her role in BUTTERFIELD 8. She met her fifth (and sixth) husband Richard Burton on the set of the 1963 troubled, mega-budgeted production of CLEOPATRA, their then-scandalous affair rocketing both stars to unparalleled heights of notoriety. The pair married in 1964 and divorced in 1974 only to remarry again in 1975, their second marriage lasting less than one year. As George and Martha in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, Burton and Taylor channeled their passions (pro and con) into performances widely considered among the best of their individual careers.
As Taylor’s movie star career dimmed in later life, she smartly engineered ways to leverage her celebrity status as a businesswoman, creating a line of elite name-branded perfumes, and as a draw for press attention on the growing AIDS crisis in the 1980s. After the diagnosis of longtime friend Rock Hudson and his death from AIDS in 1985, Taylor assumed the unlikely mantle of social activist and spokesperson taking up the cause as a personal crusade. With nothing to lose for her iconic reputation and with everything to gain for dragging the world’s media and medical spotlight onto the HIV/AIDS global health issue, Taylor’s unflinching determination helped initiate the stripping away the social shame and subsequent medical inattention which allowed the lethal affliction to spread unchecked and untreated.
Taylor appeared and withdrew from public notoriety in later years with high-profile marriages to Senator John Warner and construction worker Larry Fortensky, amid a series of health issues including weight fluctuations, sobriety challenges and serious illness.
Elizabeth Taylor succumbed to congestive heart failure early Wednesday morning at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, after a six-week hospitalization. She is survived by four children — Michael and Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd and Maria Burton — ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.