Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor has died of congestive heart failure, at the age of 79. The epitome of glamorous Hollywood icons, Taylor died today, surrounded by her four children at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Considered by many to be the last great actress to emerge from the old MGM studio system, Elizabeth Taylor led a storied personal life full of success, scandal and struggle. Though she suffered numerous health setbacks, she founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and was a tireless crusader against the disease that claimed her dear friend Rock Hudson, and millions of others worldwide.
Outspoken and unapologetic, Elizabeth Taylor accepted her good fortune as well as her personal tragedies with equal candor. She famously said, “I’m a living example of what people can go through and survive.” And she was right.
At the age of 12, she was thrown from a horse, while filming her breakthrough role in National Velvet, and suffered a chronic back injury that lasted the rest of her life. In 1961, she had a tracheotomy after a case of double-pneumonia that nearly killer her. She had respiratory issues, heart problems, double hip replacement, a benign brain tumor, skin cancer, and a twice broken back. The fact that a brain tumor barely registers on her list of ailments is a testimony to her strength. Not surprisingly, she developed a dependence on painkillers and alcohol to cope with the pain. Her weight famously went up and down. But unlike most women, her battle with weight played out in the national spotlight and the public was not always kind. When life knocked her down, she got back on her feet, dusted herself off, and soldiered on. She sought treatment for her addictions and overcame them. Though bound to a wheelchair, she took her health problems in stride, even joking about them to Larry King in 2006, “Do I look like I’m dying?”
Known for her violet eyes, her eight marriages, and her fragrance empire, there was much more to Elizabeth Taylor than those things. She was an actress, an author, and an activist. Her versatility, headstrong spirit, and sense of self-worth defined her. She began her career as a child star, most notably in National Velvet. When she was 15, she told Louis B. Mayer to “go to hell.” She portrayed Cleopatra, and in doing so, she became the first actor—male or female—to earn $1 million for a film role. She amassed a jaw-dropping collection of jewels, including the enormous Krupp Diamond, weighing in at more than 33 carats, and the nearly 70-carat Taylor-Burton Diamond, both gifts from Richard Burton, whom she married, and divorced, twice. She won two Oscars. She portrayed the heroines of Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. She costarred opposite Mickey Rooney, James Dean, Rock Hudson, Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift, Burton, and even Lassie. She hung out with Michael Jackson. She did stints on Broadway, on soap operas, and even on The Simpsons. She married a congressman, and a carpenter. A native of London, she was made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 2000. Ever evolving, she even took up Twitter, embracing social media as the new era of communication.
But perhaps her greatest accomplishment may be the founding of amfAR. At a time when AIDS was still a mysterious, isolating illness, Elizabeth Taylor bravely reached out and embraced the idea of finding a cure. She stood side by side with Rock Hudson, who had been diagnosed with the disease and was forced to come out as a homosexual, unconcerned with public backlash and AIDS hysteria. A symbol of generosity, she helped raise more than $100 million for AIDS research, testified before Congress, and sought an end to discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS. Regardless of her accomplishments on the silver screen or in the board room, her dedication to AIDS research will impact generations to come.
She used her name and her fame to encourage others to take action. After all, who could say no to Elizabeth Taylor? Although she used a wheelchair to get around later in life, she said that she still got around because, “there’s still so much to do.” Gracious and giving, she was also provocative and at times downright frank. When asked if she would ever write her memoirs, Elizabeth Taylor quipped, “Hell, no. I’m still living my memoirs!”
And with that, let’s recognize Elizabeth Taylor as an inspiration to get up and keep going, come what may. We may not all have the ability to do it with the same style and grace, but we all have the ability to do it. Personal setbacks related to physical and emotional health exist for each of us, to varying degrees. But we don’t have to accept them. Each day we receive the gift of living. Do as Elizabeth Taylor did and make the most of it.
Talk it up:
How will you remember Elizabeth Taylor?
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