DEATH OF AN ICON

The life and times of El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor

Townsville Bulletin - - Inside Today - by Robert But­ler

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

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