Elizabeth Taylor dies at 79; legendary actress
Elizabeth Taylor, star of stage and screen who married multiple times, became a successful businesswoman and helped to pioneer the fight against AIDS, dies of congestive heart failure.
Elizabeth Taylor watches her fiance Eddie Fisher as he performs on stage at the Tropicana in Las Vegas in 1959. (John Bryson/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Hospitalized six weeks ago for congestive heart failure, Taylor died early Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with her four children at her side, publicist Sally Morrison said.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this article said Mickey Rooney played Elizabeth Taylor's trainer in "Lassie Come Home." Rooney did not star in that movie. He played Taylor's trainer in "National Velvet."
Tributes flowed from luminaries such as Elton John, who extolled her as "a Hollywood giant," and former President Clinton, who honored her at the White House in 2001 and called her "thoroughly American royalty."
Photos: Elizabeth Taylor: A life in pictures
During a career that spanned six decades, the legendary beauty with lavender eyes won two Oscars and made more than 50 films, performing alongside such fabled leading men as Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton, whom she married twice. She took her cues from a Who's Who of directors, including George Cukor, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, George Stevens, Vincente Minnelli and Mike Nichols.
Long after she faded from the screen, she remained a mesmerizing figure, blessed and cursed by the extraordinary celebrity that molded her life through its many phases: She was a child star who bloomed gracefully into an ingenue; a femme fatale on the screen and in life; a canny peddler of high-priced perfume; a pioneering activist in the fight against AIDS.
Some actresses, such as Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, won more awards and critical plaudits, but none matched Taylor's hold on the collective imagination. In the public's mind, she was the dark goddess for whom playing Cleopatra as she did with such notoriety, required no great leap from reality.
Taylor, New York Times critic Vincent Canby once wrote, "has grown up in the full view of a voracious public for whom the triumphs and disasters of her personal life have automatically become extensions of her screen performances. She's different from the rest of us."
Her passions were legend. She loved to eat, which led to well-publicized battles with weight over the years. She loved men, dating many of the world's richest and most famous, including Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger and Malcolm Forbes, and married eight times, including the two visits to the altar with Burton.
She loved jewels, amassing huge and expensive baubles the way children collect toys.
"It would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a big ring on Elizabeth Taylor's finger," Andy Warhol once mused about the woman who owned the 33-carat Krupp diamond ring — a gift from Burton that she wore daily. It broadcast to the world that she was a lady with an enormous lust for life.
But Taylor attracted misfortune too. According to one chronicler, she suffered more than 70 illnesses, injuries and accidents requiring hospitalization, including an appendectomy, an emergency tracheotomy, a punctured esophagus, a hysterectomy, dysentery, an ulcerated eye, smashed spinal discs, phlebitis, skin cancer and hip replacements. In 1997, she had a benign brain tumor removed. By her own count, she nearly died four times.
In 2004 she disclosed that she had congestive heart failure and crippling spinal problems that left her in constant pain. For much of her life she struggled with alcohol and prescription painkillers.
She was often described as the quintessential Tennessee Williams heroine, a characterization Taylor did not dispute.
It meant, she once told the Los Angeles Times, "steamy, full of drama. I'm sure they didn't mean it kindly. Tennessee's heroines are all fraught. They're all on the brink of disaster."
On the evening of Oct. 6, 1991, two dozen helicopters carrying paparazzi and reporters whirred in the skies above singer Michael Jackson's ranch in Santa Barbara County. Despite an armada of hot-air balloons launched as a shield against prying eyes, a parachutist wearing a camera on his helmet managed to land mere yards from the 59-year-old bride and her 39-year-old groom.
Thus were Taylor and construction worker Larry Fortensky wed — amid Hollywood hoopla and conjecture about whether the movie star's eighth walk down the aisle would be her last.