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Elizabeth Taylor, Legendary Actress and Activist

Full Name Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor
Born February 27, 1932 in London, England
Died March 23, 2011 in Los Angeles at age 79
Spouse(s) Conrad Hilton Jr. (1950-1951), Michael Wilding (1952-1957), Michael Todd (1957-1958), Eddie Fisher (1959-1964), Richard Burton (1964-1974, 1975-1976), John Warner (1976-1982), Larry Fortensky (1991-1996)
Children 3 (including Liza Todd and Maria Burton)
Notable Films National Velvet (1944), Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Butterfield 8 (1960), Cleopatra (1963), Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Awards 2 Academy Awards for Best Actress, Cecil B. DeMille Award, AFI Life Achievement Award, Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Academy Award

Dame Elizabeth Taylor was a British-American actress who embodied Hollywood glamour and luxury for over 50 years. Known for her striking beauty and talent, she became one of the biggest movie stars in classic cinema, earning acclaim for roles in films like National Velvet (1944) and Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).

Early Life and Career Beginnings

Born in London to American parents, young Elizabeth was recognized early on for her beauty and vivacious personality. She moved to Los Angeles with her family at age 7 and was soon introduced to the entertainment world.

"She wanted to be able to make her own decisions about my life and career," Taylor later said of her protective mother.

After small roles in films like Lassie Come Home (1943), she landed the lead in National Velvet (1944) at just age 12. She trained rigorously for the role, later calling it "the most exciting film" she ever made. The film was a huge hit and catapulted her to stardom.

Taylor continued working steadily through the 1940s and 50s, transitioning into adult roles in films like Father of the Bride (1950) with Spencer Tracy. She earned her first Best Actress Oscar nomination for A Place in the Sun (1951).

Hollywood Stardom and Leading Lady Roles

In the 1960s Taylor cemented her status as the biggest female star in Hollywood. She won her first Oscar for Butterfield 8 in 1960 at just age 28. She showed her acting range as the troubled, vulnerable call girl Gloria.

But her most iconic role came in 1963‘s Cleopatra, playing the Egyptian queen opposite Richard Burton as Marc Antony. Fox paid her a record $1 million for the role. The movie‘s opulent sets and costumes made it the most expensive film ever made.

“She was by far the most beautiful woman in the world,” Burton later said about when he first saw Taylor as Cleopatra. “It was the perfect match of actress and role.”

Taylor also starred in the sweeping epic Giant (1956) and played Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), showcasing her talent for fiery, complex female characters.

Champion for AIDS Research and Activism

After Taylor‘s friend and co-star Rock Hudson died of AIDS in 1985, she dedicated herself to raising funds and awareness about HIV/AIDS. Along with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and others, she co-founded amfAR and testified before Congress for more research funding.

“I kept seeing all these news reports on this new disease and kept asking myself why no one was doing anything,” Taylor recalled. “And then I realized that I was just like them. I wasn’t doing anything to help.”

In 1991 she launched her own Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation, providing direct care for those living with HIV. Along with her acting legacy, Taylor left an impact through her humanitarian work.

Marriages and Passionate Love Affairs

Taylor‘s love life attracted enormous media attention. She married eight times to seven husbands, including:

  • Conrad Hilton Jr. (1950-1951) – The hotel heir was Taylor‘s first husband.
  • Richard Burton (1964-1974, 1975-1976) – She met Burton on the set of Cleopatra. Their tumultuous relationship was chronicled obsessively.
  • John Warner (1976-1982) – She campaigned heavily for Warner during his successful 1978 Senate run in Virginia.

Of Burton, she famously said: “We had a sort of love-hate relationship, but we were each incredibly dependent on the other."

Her Vast Jewelry Collection

Taylor adored jewelry and amassed an unbelievable collection, including the 33.19-carat Krupp Diamond, the 69.42-carat Taylor-Burton Diamond, and the 50-carat La Peregrina Pearl.

She owned so many bulky jewels that photoshoots required security guards. Her passion even inspired a Taylor-Burton Diamond perfume. In 2011, her collection auctioned for a record $156 million.

Cultural Icon and Fashion Influencer

With her sophisticated style and dark, sultry makeup, Taylor transformed perceptions of beauty in postwar America. She helped modernize fashion by wearing Christian Dior‘s radical "New Look" on screen.

Later in life, she launched several perfumes including Passion, White Diamonds and Violet Eyes, which propelled her image further into icon status. Her glamorous legacy continues to influence pop culture and fashion.

Behind the Scenes Stories and Memorable Quotes

  • Taylor was famously difficult on movie sets, with contracts granting personal demands like time off and custom lighting. She clashed with Cleopatra director Joseph Mankiewicz.
  • On Richard Burton: “We would fight and yell, and he would yell back, and we would have these huge, raving rows. They were rather wonderful in a way.”
  • On her appearance: “I’ve been through it all, baby. I’m Mother Courage.”
  • On acting: “When I’m up there, I’m the most alive person on the block.”

Cultural Impact and Lasting Legend

Elizabeth Taylor embodied the glory and tragedy behind Hollywood‘s "Golden Age." With her singular talent, magnetism, and unrestrained spirit, she came to define an era of cinema. Despite personal troubles, she lived life fully and passionately.

Taylor showed the power celebrities have to bring attention to humanitarian issues. She used her platform to help destigmatize HIV/AIDS and will forever be linked to AIDS activism.

Though she passed away in 2011, Taylor remains an enduring symbol of Tinseltown allure. She continues to captivate audiences and influence pop culture through her legendary screen presence and eclectic life story.