DEATH OF AN ICON
The life and times of Elizabeth Taylor
ELIZABETH Taylor went from dazzling beauty in her glory years to self-described ruin in old age.
She spent almost her entire life in the public eye, from tiny dancer performing at age three before the future queen of England, to child screen star to scandalous home-wrecker to three-time Academy Award winner for both acting and humanitarian work.
A diva, she made a spectacle of her private life – eight marriages, ravenous appetites for drugs, booze and f ood, ill - health t hat sparked headlines con - stantly proclaiming her at death’s door.
All of it often over - shadowed the fireworks she created on screen.
Yet for all her infamy and indulgences, Taylor died on Wednesday a beloved idol, a woman who somehow held onto her status as one of old Hollywood’s last larger-thanlife legends, adored even as she waned to a tabloid figure.
Taylor, 79, died of congestive heart failure at CedarsSinai Medical Center, where she had been hospitalised for about six weeks.
‘‘ 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,’’ her son, Michael Wilding, said in a prepared statement.
A star from her teen years in such films as National Velvet, Little Women and Father of the Bride, Taylor won best-actress Oscars as a high-end hooker in 1960s
Butterfield 8 and an alcoholic shrew in a savage marriage in 1966’ s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
In the latter, she starred with husband Richard Burton, their on-screen emotional t empest considered a glimpse of their stormy real lives ( they divorced in 1974, remarried in 1975 and divorced again a year later).
For all the ferocity of her screen roles and the turmoil of her life, Taylor was remembered for her gentler, life-affirming side.
‘‘ The shock of Elizabeth was not only her beauty,’’ said Virginia Woolf director Mike Nichols. ‘‘ It was her generosity, her giant laugh, her vitality, whether tackling a complex scene on film or where we would all have dinner until dawn.
‘‘She is singular and indelible on film and in our hearts.’’
Her passion i n raising money and AIDS awareness brought her an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1993.
‘‘ Acting is, to me now, artificial,’’ Taylor told The Associated Press at the 2005 dedication of a UCLA AIDS research centre.
‘‘ Seeing people suffer is real.’’
Taylor received the Legion of Honour, France’s most prestigious award, in 1987 for AIDS efforts.
In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II made Taylor a dame for her services to charity and the entertainment industry.
Taylor herself, however, suffered through the decades.
Taylor had life-threatening bouts with pneumonia, a brain tumour and congestive heart failure in her 60s and 70s, and from drug and alcohol abuse, including a 35-year addiction to sleeping pills and painkillers, which prompted her to check in to the Betty Ford clinic.
She had at least 20 major operations, i ncluding replacements of both hip joints and surgery to remove the benign brain tumour.
Taylor also dealt with obesity, packing on as much as 27kg and writing, ‘‘ It’s a wonder I didn’t explode’’ in her 1988 book Elizabeth Takes Off, about how she gained the weight and then shed it.
After a lifetime of ailments and self-abuse, Taylor said in a 2004 interview with W magazine that ‘‘ my body’s a real mess. Just completely convex and concave.’’
BELOVED IDOL: Flowers have been placed by fans on Elizabeth Taylor’s star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood
Photo: MARK RALSTON