Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most beautiful, celebrated, and gossiped-about Hollywood stars of all time, has died at age 79. The actress was surrounded by her four children when she died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to the Associated Press.
Taylor, who battled health issues throughout her life, had been hospitalized for the past six weeks.
Her family and other stars were quick to weigh in on the passing of the legendary actress.
“My Mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love,” her son, Michael Wilding, said in a statement. “We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts.”
“We have just lost a Hollywood giant,” said Elton John, a fellow AIDS fundraiser. “More importantly, we have lost an incredible human being.” Taylor was the first public figure to champion the AIDS cause after losing friend Rock Hudson, her costar in ‘Giant,’ to the disease in 1985.
Taylor began acting at age 10, gracing such films as ‘Lassie Come Home,’ ‘Jane Eyre’ and starring in ‘National Velvet’ opposite Mickey Rooney. Her natural beauty, fragility and sweetness made her an instant star. She blossomed into a gorgeous woman, and a Hollywood icon in the 1950s with films like ‘The Father of the Bride,’ and ‘A Place in the Sun.’
Film fans hoping to catch up on Taylor’s greatest films can begin with celebrating her beauty in ‘A Place in the Sun,’ and ‘Suddenly, Last Summer,’ and then admire her transformation into a much-older alcoholic in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,’ (for which she earned her second Oscar).
Paul Newman praised the intensity with which Taylor threw herself into her role as Maggie the Cat in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ after losing her husband Mike Todd in a plane crash. Her life was touched by tragedy, including the early deaths of two of her most beloved co-stars, James Dean and Montgomery Clift.
There’s also ‘Cleopatra,’ the film which brought her together with two-time husband Richard Burton and netted her the first $1 million paycheck ever paid in Hollywood. The epic is legendary for its delays and cost overruns, as well as the steamy on-set affair of its leads, who were married to other people at the time. It nearly bankrupted its studio and is still regarded as one of Hollywood’s most expensive flops. The film was a fiasco, but Taylor’s Egyptian makeup became all the rage.
Taylor was born in London in 1932 and was made a Dame in 2000. She earned her first Oscar for ‘Butterfield 8,’ a film she loathed, after nearly dying of pneumonia. “Hell, even I voted for her,” said Debbie Reynolds, whose husband Eddie Fisher had left her for Taylor.
Her private life was always very public, from her first, short-lived marriage to Hilton heir Nicky Hilton, to her subsequent weddings, scandalous affairs, and health woes. Her involvement with amFAR, even when she was in bad health herself, is just one reason Taylor is so beloved. Her charity work earned her the respect that was sometimes lacking for her as an actress (despite her two Oscars) or a tabloid fixture.
She’ll be fondly remembered for her great beauty and her tireless fundraising and for her many iconic roles, such as Maggie the Cat, Cleopatra, and Velvet Brown. A lovely child star became a stunning movie star, who became a legend. Rest in peace, Liz.