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Dame Elizabeth Rosemond "Liz" Taylor, DBE (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011) was a British-born American actress.
From her early years as a child star with MGM, she became one of the great screen actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age. As one of the world's most famous film stars, Taylor was recognized for her acting ability and for her glamorous lifestyle, beauty, and distinctive violet eyes.
National Velvet (1944) was Taylor's first success, and she starred in Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for BUtterfield 8 (1960), played the title role in Cleopatra (1963), and married her co-star Richard Burton. They appeared together in 11 films, including Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), for which Taylor won a second Academy Award. From the mid-1970s, she appeared less frequently in film, and made occasional appearances in television and theatre.
Her much-publicized personal life included eight marriages and several life-threatening illnesses. From the mid-1980s, Taylor championed HIV and AIDS programs; she co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985, and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1993. She received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Legion of Honour, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, who named her seventh on their list of the "Greatest American Screen Legends". Taylor died of congestive heart failure in March 2011 at the age of 79, having suffered many years of ill health.
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born at Heathwood, her parents' home at 8 Wildwood Road in Hampstead Garden Suburb, a northwestern suburb of London; the younger of two children of Francis Lenn Taylor (1897–1968) and Sara Sothern (née Sara Viola Warmbrodt; 1895–1994), who were Americans residing in England. Taylor's older brother, Howard Taylor, was born in 1929. Her parents were originally from Arkansas City, Kansas. Francis Taylor was an art dealer, and Sara was a former actress whose stage name was "Sara Sothern". Sothern retired from the stage in 1926 when she married Francis in New York City. Taylor's two first names are in honor of her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Mary (Rosemond) Taylor.
Colonel Victor Cazalet, one of their closest friends, had an important influence on the family. He was a rich, well-connected bachelor, a Member of Parliament and close friend of Winston Churchill. Cazalet loved both art and theater and was passionate when encouraging the Taylor family to think of England as their permanent home. Additionally, as a Christian Scientist and lay preacher, his links with the family were spiritual. He also became Elizabeth's godfather. In one instance, when she was suffering with a severe infection as a child, she was kept in her bed for weeks. She "begged" for his company: "Mother, please call Victor and ask him to come and sit with me.":14
Biographer Alexander Walker suggests that Elizabeth's conversion to Judaism at the age of 27 and her lifelong support for Israel, may have been influenced by views she heard at home. Walker notes that Cazalet actively campaigned for a Jewish homeland, and her mother also worked in various charities, which included sponsoring fundraisers for Zionism. Her mother recalls the influence that Cazalet had on Elizabeth:
Victor sat on the bed and held Elizabeth in his arms and talked to her about God. Her great dark eyes searched his face, drinking in every word, believing and understanding.
A dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States, she was born British through her birth on British soil and an American citizen through her parents. In October 1965, she signed an oath of renunciation at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, but with the phrase "abjure all allegiance and fidelity to the United States" struck out; U.S. State Department officials declared that her renunciation was invalid due to the alteration. Taylor signed another oath without the alteration in October 1966. She applied for U.S. citizenship again in 1977 during then-husband John Warner's Senate campaign.
At the age of three, Taylor began taking ballet lessons. Shortly before the beginning of World War II, her parents decided to return to the United States to avoid hostilities. Her mother took the children first, arriving in New York in April 1939, while her father remained in London to wrap up matters in his art business, arriving in November. They settled in Los Angeles, California, where her father established a new art gallery, which included many paintings he shipped from England. The gallery would soon attract numerous Hollywood celebrities who appreciated its modern European paintings. According to Walker, the gallery "opened many doors for the Taylors, leading them directly into the society of money and prestige" within Hollywood's movie colony.:27
Soon after settling in Los Angeles, Taylor's mother discovered that Hollywood people "habitually saw a movie future for every pretty face". Some of her mother's friends, and even total strangers, urged her to have Taylor screen tested for the role of Bonnie Blue, Scarlett's child in Gone with the Wind, then being filmed. Her mother refused the idea, as a child actress in film was alien to her. And in any regard, they would return to England after the war.
Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper introduced the Taylors to Andrea Berens, the fiancée of John Cheever Cowdin, chairman and major stockholder of Universal Pictures. Berens insisted that Sara take Taylor to see Cowden who, she assured, would be dazzled by her breathtaking beauty. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer also became interested in Taylor, and MGM head Louis B. Mayer reportedly told his producer, "Sign her up, sign her up! What are you waiting for?" As a result, she soon had both Universal and MGM willing to place her under contract. When Universal learned that MGM was equally interested, however, Cowden telephoned Universal from New York: "Sign her up, he ordered, don't even wait for the screen test." Universal then gave her a seven-year contract.:31
Taylor appeared in her first motion picture at the age of nine in There's One Born Every Minute (1942), her only film for Universal.
After less than a year, however, the studio fired Taylor for unknown reasons. Some speculate that she did not live up to Cowden's promise. Walker believes that Taylor's intuition told her "she wasn't really welcome at Universal." She learned, for instance, that her casting director complained, "The kid has nothing", after a test. Even her beautiful eyes did not impress him. Taylor's eyes were a deep blue that appeared violet and stunned those who met her in person, with a mutation that gave Taylor double eyelashes "Her eyes are too old, she doesn't have the face of a child," he said.:32 But Walker admits that "this was not so far off the mark as it may appear now". He explains:
There was something slightly odd about Elizabeth's looks, even at this age – an expression that sometimes made people think she was older than she was. She already had her mother's air of concentration. Later on, it would prove an invaluable asset. At the time, it disconcerted people who compared her unfavorably with Shirley Temple's cute bubbling innocence or Judy Garland's plainer and more vulnerable juvenile appeal.
Taylor herself remembers that when she was a child in England, adults used to describe her as having an "old soul," because, as she says, "I was totally direct." She also recognized similar traits in her baby daughter:
I saw my daughter as a baby, before she was a year old, look at people, steadily, with those eyes of hers, and see people start to fidget, and drop things out of their pockets and finally, unable to stand the heat, get out of the room.
Taylor's father served as an air raid warden with MGM producer Sam Marx, and learned that the studio was searching for an English actress for a Lassie film. Taylor received the role and was offered a long-term contract at the beginning of 1943. She chose MGM because "the people there had been nicer to her when she went to audition", Taylor recalled.:32 MGM's production chief, Benny Thau, was to remain the "only MGM executive" she fully trusted during subsequent years, because, writes Walker, "he had, out of kindly habit, made the gesture that showed her she was loved".:32 Thau remembered her as a "little dark-haired beauty...[with] those strange and lovely eyes that gave the face its central focus, oddly powerful in someone so young.":34 MGM, in addition, was considered a "glamorous studio", boasting that it had "more stars than there are in heaven." Before Taylor's mother would sign the contract, however, she sought certainty that Taylor had a "God-given talent" to become an actress. Walker describes how they came to a decision:
[Mrs. Taylor] wanted a final sign of revelation...Was there a divine plan for her? Mrs. Taylor took her old script for The Fool, in which she had played the scene of the girl whose faith is answered by a miracle cure. Now she asked Elizabeth to read her own part, while she read the lines of the leading man. She confessed to weeping openly. She said, 'There sat my daughter playing perfectly the part of the child as I, a grown woman, had tried to do it. It seemed that she must have been in my head all those years I was acting'.:38–39
MGM cast Taylor in Lassie Come Home (1943) with child star Roddy McDowall, with whom she would share a lifelong friendship. He later recalled regarding her beauty, "who has double eyelashes except a girl who was absolutely born to be on the big screen?" The film received favorable attention for both actors, and MGM signed Taylor to a conventional seven-year contract starting at $100 a week and with regular raises. Her first assignment under her new contract was a loan-out to 20th Century Fox for the character of Helen Burns in a film version of the Charlotte Brontë novel Jane Eyre (1943). Taylor returned to England to appear in another McDowall picture for MGM, The White Cliffs of Dover (1944).
Taylor's persistence in seeking the role of Velvet Brown in MGM's National Velvet made her a star at the age of 12. Her character is a young girl who trains her beloved horse to win the Grand National. Velvet, which costarred fellow young actor Mickey Rooney and English newcomer Angela Lansbury, became a great success upon its release in December 1944. Many years later Taylor called it "the most exciting film" she had ever made, although the film caused many of her later back problems due to her falling off a horse during filming.
Viewers and critics "fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor when they saw her in it." Walker explains why the film was popular:
Its enormous popularity rubs off on to its heroine because she expresses, with the strength of an obsession, the aspirations of people—people who have never seen a girl on horseback, or maybe even a horse race for that matter—who believe that anything is possible...A philosophy of life, in other words...a film which...has acquired the status of a generational classic...:41
National Velvet grossed over US$4 million and MGM signed Taylor to a new long-term contract. Because of the movie's success she was cast in another animal film, Courage of Lassie (1946), in which Bill the dog outsmarts the Nazis. The film's success led to another contract for Taylor paying her $750 per week. Her roles as Mary Skinner in a loan-out to Warner Brothers' Life With Father (1947), Cynthia Bishop in Cynthia (1947), Carol Pringle in A Date with Judy (1948), and Susan Prackett in Julia Misbehaves (1948) were all successful. Taylor received a reputation as a consistently successful adolescent actress, with a nickname of "One-Shot Liz" (referring to her ability to shoot a scene in one take) and a promising career. Taylor's portrayal of Amy in the American classic Little Women (1949) was her last adolescent role.
MGM studio provided schooling for its child stars with classrooms within the studio grounds. Taylor, however, came to dislike being cut off from typical schools with average students who were not treated like stars. She recalls her life before studio acting as a happier period in her childhood:
One of the few times I've ever really been happy in my life was when I was a kid before I started acting. With the other kids I'd make up games, play with dolls, pretend games. . . . As I got more famous—after National Velvet, when I was 12—I still wanted to be part of their lives, but I think in a way they began to regard me as a sort of an oddity, a freak.
I hated school—because it wasn't school. I wanted terribly to be with kids. On the set the teacher would take me by my ear and lead me into the schoolhouse. I would be infuriated; I was 16 and they weren't taking me seriously. Then after about 15 minutes I'd leave class to play a passionate love scene as Robert Taylor's wife.
Transition into adult roles
The teenage Taylor was reluctant to continue making films. Her stage mother forced Taylor to relentlessly practice until she could cry on cue and watched her during filming, signaling to change her delivery or a mistake. Taylor met few others her age on movie sets, and was so poorly-educated that she needed to use her fingers to do basic arithmetic. When at age 16 Taylor told her parents that she wanted to quit acting for a normal childhood, however, Sara Taylor told her that she was ungrateful: "You have a responsibility, Elizabeth. Not just to this family, but to the country now, the whole world".
In October 1948, Taylor sailed aboard the RMS Queen Mary to England to begin filming Conspirator. Unlike some other child actors, Taylor made an easy transition to adult roles. Before Conspirator's 1949 release, a TIME cover article called her "a jewel of great price, a true star sapphire", and the leader among Hollywood's next generation of stars such as Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas, and Ava Gardner. The petite Taylor had the figure of a mature woman, with a 19" waist. Conspirator failed at the box office, but 16-year-old Taylor's portrayal of a 21-year-old debutante who unknowingly marries a communist spy played by 38-year-old Robert Taylor, was praised by critics for her first adult lead in a film. Taylor's first picture under her new salary of $2,000 per week was The Big Hangover (1950), both a critical and box office failure, that paired her with screen idol Van Johnson. The picture also failed to present Taylor with an opportunity to exhibit her newly realized sensuality.
Her first box office success in an adult role came as Kay Banks in the comedy Father of the Bride (1950), alongside Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. The film spawned a sequel, Father's Little Dividend (1951), which Taylor's costar Spencer Tracy summarized with "boring… boring… boring". The film did well at the box office, but it would be Taylor's next picture that would set the course for her career as a dramatic actress.
In late 1949, Taylor had begun filming George Stevens' A Place in the Sun. Upon its release in 1951, Taylor was hailed for her performance as Angela Vickers, a spoiled socialite who comes between George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) and his poor, pregnant factory-working girlfriend Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). The film, based on Theodore Dreiser's novel, An American Tragedy, was an indictment of "the American dream" and its corrupting influences, notes biographer Kitty Kelley.
Although Taylor, then only 17, was unaware of the psychological implications of the story and its powerful nuances, it became the pivotal performance of Taylor's career. Kelley explains that Stevens, its director, knew that with Elizabeth Taylor as the young and beautiful star, the "audience would understand why George Eastman (Clift) would kill for a place in the sun with her." Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, allowed on the set to watch the filming, became "wide-eyed watching the little girl from National Velvet seduce Montgomery Clift in front of the camera," writes Kelley. When the scene was over, Hopper went to her, "Elizabeth, where on earth did you ever learn how to make love like that?"
Critics acclaimed the film as a classic, a reputation it sustained throughout the next 50 years of cinema history. The New York Times' A.H. Weiler wrote, "Elizabeth's delineation of the rich and beauteous Angela is the top effort of her career", and the Boxoffice reviewer unequivocally stated "Miss Taylor deserves an Academy Award".
Taylor became increasingly unsatisfied with the roles being offered to her at the time. While she wanted to play the lead roles in The Barefoot Contessa and I'll Cry Tomorrow, MGM continued to restrict her to mindless and somewhat forgettable films such as: a cameo as herself in Callaway Went Thataway (1951), Love Is Better Than Ever (1952), Ivanhoe (1952), and The Girl Who Had Everything (1953).
Taylor's next screen endeavor, Rhapsody (1954), another tedious romantic drama, proved equally frustrating. Taylor portrayed Louise Durant, a beautiful rich girl in love with a temperamental violinist (Vittorio Gassman) and an earnest young pianist (John Ericson). A film critic for the New York Herald Tribune wrote: "There is beauty in the picture all right, with Miss Taylor glowing into the camera from every angle… but the dramatic pretenses are weak, despite the lofty sentences and handsome manikin poses."
Taylor's fourth period picture, Beau Brummell, made just after Elephant Walk and Rhapsody, cast her as the elaborately costumed Lady Patricia, which many felt was only a screen prop—a ravishing beauty whose sole purpose was to lend romantic support to the film's title star, Stewart Granger. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) fared only slightly better than her previous pictures, with Taylor being reunited with The Big Hangover costar Van Johnson. The role of Helen Ellsworth Willis was based on that of Zelda Fitzgerald and, although pregnant with her second child, Taylor went ahead with the film, her fourth in 12 months. Although proving somewhat successful at the box office, she still yearned for more substantial roles.
Following a more substantial role opposite Rock Hudson and James Dean in George Stevens' epic Giant (1956), Taylor was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress four years in a row for Raintree County (1957) opposite Montgomery Clift; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) opposite Paul Newman; Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) with Montgomery Clift, Katharine Hepburn and Mercedes McCambridge; and finally winning for BUtterfield 8 (1960). The film co-starred then husband Eddie Fisher and ended her contract, which Taylor said had made her an "MGM chattel" for 18 years.
Suddenly, Last Summer's success made Taylor among the top ten most successful actors at the box office, and she remained in the top ten almost every year for the next decade. In 1960, Taylor became the highest-paid actress up to that time when she signed a $1 million dollar contract to play the title role in 20th Century Fox's lavish production of Cleopatra, which was released in 1963. During the filming, she began a romance with her future husband Richard Burton, who played Mark Antony in the film. The romance received much attention from the tabloid press, as both were married to other spouses at the time. Taylor ultimately received $7 million for her role.
Her second Academy Award, also for Best Actress in a Leading Role, was for her performance as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), playing opposite then husband Richard Burton. The film was a turning point for both Taylor and Burton, as it was the "most exciting and daunting project either of them had ever contemplated," writes Walker. Taylor saw the film as her chance to act, "to really act," and a chance to emulate one of her favorite dramatic actresses, Vivien Leigh, who played roles as a "tragic heroine." For this part, however, Taylor worried that she did not look old enough, as her character was to be twenty years older. To compensate, she added gray hairs and transformed herself both physically and vocally: she intentionally gained weight, minimized makeup, and added excessive mascara to her eyes along with smudgy bags beneath them.
Taylor and Burton appeared together in six other films during the decade, among them The V.I.P.s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), and The Taming of the Shrew (1967). By 1967 their films had earned $200 million at the box office. When Taylor and Burton considered not working for three months, the possibility caused alarm in Hollywood as "nearly half of the U.S. film industry's income" came from movies starring one or both of them. Their next films Doctor Faustus (1967), The Comedians (1967) and Boom! (1968), however, all failed at the box office.
Taylor appeared in John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) opposite Marlon Brando (replacing Clift, who died before production began) and Secret Ceremony (1968) opposite Mia Farrow. By the end of the decade her box-office drawing power had considerably diminished, as evidenced by the failure of The Only Game in Town (1970), with Warren Beatty.
Although limited by a "thin and inflexible voice", Taylor continued to star in numerous theatrical films throughout the 1970s, such as Zee and Co. (1972) with Michael Caine, Ash Wednesday (1973), The Blue Bird (1976) with Jane Fonda and Ava Gardner, and A Little Night Music (1977). With then-husband Richard Burton, she co-starred in the 1972 films Under Milk Wood and Hammersmith Is Out, and the 1973 made-for-TV movie Divorce His, Divorce Hers.
Taylor starred in the 1980 mystery film The Mirror Crack'd, based on an Agatha Christie novel. In 1985, she played movie gossip columnist Louella Parsons in the TV film Malice in Wonderland opposite Jane Alexander, who played Hedda Hopper. Taylor appeared in the miniseries North and South. Her last theatrical film was 1994's The Flintstones.
In February 1996, she appeared on the TV program, The Nanny as herself, and the star of the show, Fran, identifies her to a friend by using all of her husbands' names, stating that she would be meeting "Elizabeth Taylor-Hilton-Wilding-Todd-Fisher-Burton-Burton-Warner-Fortensky". In 2001 she played an agent in the TV film These Old Broads. She appeared on a number of television series, including the soap operas General Hospital and All My Children, as well as the animated series The Simpsons—once as herself, and once as the voice of Maggie Simpson, uttering one word, "Daddy".
Taylor also acted on the stage, making her Broadway and West End debuts in 1982 with a revival of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. She was then in a production of Noël Coward's Private Lives (1983), in which she starred with her former husband, Richard Burton. The student-run Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford was named for the famous couple after Burton appeared as Doctor Faustus in the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) production of the Marlowe play. Taylor played the ghostly, wordless Helen of Troy, who is entreated by Faustus to "make [him] immortal with a kiss".
In the early 1980s, Taylor moved to Bel Air, Los Angeles, which was her residence until her death. She also owned homes in Palm Springs, London and Hawaii.
In March 2003, Taylor declined to attend the 75th Annual Academy Awards, due to her opposition to the Iraq War. She publicly condemned then President George W. Bush for calling on Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, and said she feared the conflict would lead to "World War III".
The February 2007 issue of Interview magazine was devoted entirely to Taylor. It celebrated her life, career and her upcoming 75th birthday.
On December 1, 2007, Taylor acted on-stage again, appearing opposite James Earl Jones in a benefit performance of the A. R. Gurney play Love Letters. The event's goal was to raise $1 million for Taylor's AIDS foundation. Tickets for the show were priced at $2,500, and more than 500 people attended. The event happened to coincide with the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike and, rather than cross the picket line, Taylor requested a "one night dispensation". The Writers Guild agreed not to picket the Paramount Pictures lot that night to allow for the performance.
Marriages, romances, and children
Taylor was married eight times to seven husbands. When asked why she married so often, she replied, "I don't know, honey. It sure beats the hell out of me," but also said that, "I was taught by my parents that if you fall in love, if you want to have a love affair, you get married. I guess I'm very old-fashioned." Taylor's husbands were:
Conrad "Nicky" Hilton (May 6, 1950 – January 29, 1951): Taylor believed that she was in love with the young hotel heir, but also wanted to escape her mother. Hilton's "gambling, drinking, and abusive behavior", however, horrified her and her parents, caused a miscarriage, and ended the marriage in divorce after nine months.
Michael Wilding (February 21, 1952 – January 26, 1957): The "gentle" Wilding, 20 years older than Taylor, comforted her after leaving Hilton. After their divorce Taylor admitted that "I gave him rather a rough time, sort of henpecked him and probably wasn't mature enough for him."
Michael Todd (February 2, 1957 – March 22, 1958): Todd's death ended Taylor's only marriage not to result in divorce. Although their relationship was tumultuous, she later called him one of the three loves of her life, along with Burton and jewelry.
Eddie Fisher (May 12, 1959 – March 6, 1964): Fisher, Todd's best friend, consoled Taylor after Todd's death. They began an affair while Fisher was still married to Debbie Reynolds, causing a scandal;:226 Reynolds eventually forgave Taylor; she voted for her when Taylor was nominated for an Oscar for BUtterfield 8, and starred with her in These Old Broads.
Richard Burton (March 15, 1964 – June 26, 1974): The Vatican condemned Burton and Taylor's affair, which began when both were married to others, as "erotic vagrancy". The press closely followed their relationship before, during, and after their ten years of marriage, due to great public interest in "the most famous film star in the world and the man many believed to be the finest classical actor of his generation." Taylor wanted to focus on her marriage rather than her career, and gained weight in an unsuccessful attempt to not receive film roles.
Richard Burton (October 10, 1975 – July 29, 1976): Sixteen months after divorcing—Burton said, "You can't keep clapping a couple of sticks [of dynamite] together without expecting them to blow up"—they remarried in a private ceremony in Kasane, Botswana, but soon separated and redivorced in 1976.
John Warner (December 4, 1976 – November 7, 1982): As with Burton, Taylor sought to be known as the wife of her husband, a Republican United States Senator from Virginia. Unhappy with her life in Washington, however, Taylor became depressed and entered the Betty Ford Center.
Larry Fortensky (October 6, 1991 – October 31, 1996): Taylor and Fortensky met during another stay at the Betty Ford Center and were married at the Neverland Ranch.
Taylor had many romances outside her marriages. Before marrying Hilton, she was engaged to Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis—who did not know until the relationship ended that Taylor's mother had encouraged it to build publicity for her daughter—and also to the son of William D. Pawley, the United States Ambassador to Brazil. Howard Hughes promised Taylor's parents that if they would encourage her to marry him, the enormously wealthy industrialist and film producer would finance a movie studio for her; Sara Taylor agreed, but Taylor refused. After she left Hilton, Hughes returned, proposing to Taylor by suddenly landing a helicopter nearby and sprinkling diamonds on her. Other dates included Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger, and Malcolm Forbes. In 2007 Taylor denied rumors of a ninth marriage to her partner Jason Winters, but referred to him as "one of the most wonderful men I've ever known."
Taylor had two sons, Michael Howard (born January 6, 1953) and Christopher Edward (born February 27, 1955; her own 23rd birthday), with Michael Wilding. She had a daughter, Elizabeth Frances "Liza" (born August 6, 1957), with Michael Todd. During her marriage to Eddie Fisher, Taylor started proceedings to adopt a two-year-old girl from Germany, Maria (born August 1, 1961); the adoption process was finalized in 1964 following their divorce. Richard Burton later adopted Taylor's daughters Liza and Maria.
In 1971, Taylor became a grandmother at the age of 39. At the time of her death, she was survived by her four children, ten grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Religion and identity
In 1959, at age 27, after nine months of study, Taylor converted from Christian Science to Judaism, taking the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel. She stated that her conversion was something she had long considered and was not related to her marriages. After Mike Todd's death, Taylor said that she "felt a desperate need for a formalized religion", and explained that neither Catholicism nor Christian Science were able to address many of the "questions she had about life and death".:175
Biographer Randy Taraborrelli notes that after studying the philosophy of Judaism for nine months, "she felt an immediate connection to the faith.":176 Although Taylor rarely attended synagogue, she stated, "I'm one of those people who think you can be close to God anywhere, not just in a place designed for worship...":176 At the conversion ceremony, with her parents present as witnesses and in full support of her decision, Taylor repeated the words of Ruth:
...for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God.:176
Taylor was a follower of Kabbalah and a member of the Kabbalah Centre. During an interview when she was 55, Taylor described how her inner sense of identity, when a child actress, kept her from giving in to many of the studio's demands, especially with regard to altering her appearance to fit in:
God forbid you do anything individual or go against the fad. But I did. I figured this looks absurd. And I agreed with my dad: God must have had some reason for giving me bushy eyebrows and black hair. I guess I must have been pretty sure of my sense of identity. It was me. I accepted it all my life and I can't explain it. Because I've always been very aware of the inner me that has nothing to do with the physical me.
Taylor added that she began to recognize her "inner being" during her adulthood:
Eventually the inner you shapes the outer you, especially when you reach a certain age, and you have been given the same features as everybody else, God has arranged them in a certain way. But around 40 the inner you actually chisels your features. . . Life is to be embraced and enveloped. Surgeons and knives have nothing to do with it. It has to do with a connection with nature, God, your inner being—whatever you want to call it—it's being in contact with yourself and allowing yourself, allowing God, to mold you.
Her impressions of career and marriage
In 1964, at the age of 32, Taylor described herself as an actress: "The Elizabeth Taylor who's famous, the one on film, really has no depth or meaning to me. She's a totally superficial working thing, a commodity. She was also able to explain her acting skills as "minuscule—it's not technique. It's instinct and a certain ability to concentrate." Although most of her film roles during the previous decade portrayed her beauty and sexuality, Taylor claimed they merely exaggerated or contradicted who she was in real life, stating, "I am not a 'sex queen' or a 'sex symbol.' I don't think I want to be one...If my husband thinks I'm sexy, that's good enough for me." She also implied that the reverse is also true:
I can tell you what I think is sexy in a man. It has to do with warmth, a personal givingness, not self-awareness. Richard [Burton] is a very sexy man. He's got that sort of jungle essence that one can sense. It's not the way he combs his hair, not the things he wears; he doesn't think about having muscles. It's what he says and thinks.
By this point Taylor was married for the fifth time, to Richard Burton. Except for her third husband, Mike Todd, who died in a plane accident, she partly blamed her young romances and divorces on her "puritanical upbringing and beliefs":
At first, I guess I didn't know what was love and what was not. I always chose to think I was in love and that love was synonymous with marriage. I couldn't just have a romance; it had to be a marriage...When I was first divorced, I was 18 and I had only been married nine months. I was very naive and really totally crushed. It was the first divorce in my family.
Taylor credited Burton's strong relationship with their children as a factor in expecting their marriage to last, stating that he was the "absolute boss of the household and they respect him for that." She was surprised In hindsight by how they became romantically involved, recalling one of their first meetings:
The first day I saw Richard on the Cleopatra set, there was a lot of hemming and hawing, and he said hello to Joe Mankiewicz and everyone. And then he sort of sidled over to me and said, "Has anybody ever told you that you're a very pretty girl?" I said to myself, oy gevaldt, here's the great lover, the great wit, the great intellectual of Wales, and he comes out with a line like that. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't wait to go back to the dressing room where all the girls were and tell them.
Jewelry, perfume, and fashion
Over the years she owned a number of well-known pieces, two of the most famous being the 33.19-carat (6.64 g) Krupp Diamond, which she wore daily, and the 69.42-carat (13.88 g) pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond; both were among many gifts from husband Richard Burton. Taylor also owned the 50-carat (10 g) La Peregrina Pearl, purchased by Burton at a Sotheby's auction for $37,000; as a Valentine's Day present in 1969, and formerly owned by Mary I of England. La Peregrina is one of the most famous pearls in the world and remains one of the largest perfectly symmetrical pear-shaped pearls in the world.
Her collection of jewelry has been documented in her book My Love Affair with Jewelry (2002).
Taylor was a fashion icon during her years as an active film star. In addition to her own purchases, MGM costumers Edith Head and Helen Rose helped Taylor choose clothes that emphasized her face, chest, and waist. Taylor helped popularize Valentino and Halston's designs, and in the 1980s Schering-Plough developed violet contact lenses, citing Taylor's eyes as inspiration.
Taylor devoted consistent and generous humanitarian time, advocacy efforts, and funding to HIV and AIDS-related projects and charities, helping to raise more than $270 million for the cause. She was one of the first celebrities and public personalities to do so at a time when few acknowledged the disease, organizing and hosting the first AIDS fundraiser in 1984, to benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Taylor was cofounder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and Dr. Mathilde Krim in 1985. Her longtime friend and former co-star Rock Hudson had disclosed having AIDS and died of it that year. She also founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1993, created to provide critically needed support services for people with HIV/AIDS. For example, in 2006 Taylor commissioned a 37-foot (11 m) "Care Van" equipped with examination tables and xray equipment, the New Orleans donation made by her Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and Macy's. That year, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Taylor donated $500,000 to the NO/AIDS Task Force, a non-profit organization serving the community of those affected by HIV/AIDS in and around New Orleans.The donation was shared by Taylor in celebration of her 74th birthday and to help NO/AIDS Task Force continue their work fighting AIDS.
Taylor was honored with a special Academy Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1992 for her HIV/AIDS humanitarian work. Speaking of that work, former President Bill Clinton said at her death, "Elizabeth's legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired."
After her conversion to Judaism, Taylor worked for Jewish causes throughout her life. In 1959, her large-scale purchase of Israeli Bonds caused Arab boycotts of her films. In 1962, she was barred from entering Egypt to complete Cleopatra; its government announced that "that Miss Taylor will not be allowed to come to Egypt because she has adopted the Jewish faith and 'supports Israeli causes'". In 1974 Taylor and Richard Burton considered marrying in Israel, but could not because Burton was not Jewish. Taylor helped to raise money for organizations such as the Jewish National Fund; advocated for the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel and canceled a visit to the USSR because of its condemnation of Israel due to the Six-Day War; signed a letter protesting the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 of 1975; and offered herself as a replacement hostage during the 1976 Entebbe skyjacking.
Illnesses and death
Taylor's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame following her death
Taylor struggled with health problems much of her life; starting with her divorce from Hilton, Taylor experienced serious medical issues whenever she faced problems in her personal life. Taylor was hospitalized more than 70 times and had at least 20 major operations. Many times newspaper headlines erroneously announced that Taylor was close to death; she herself only claimed to have almost died on four occasions.
At 5'4", Taylor constantly gained and lost significant amounts of weight, reaching both 119 pounds and 180 pounds in the 1980s. She smoked cigarettes into her mid-fifties, and feared she had lung cancer in October 1975 after an X-ray showed spots on her lungs, but was later found not to have the disease. Taylor broke her back five times, had both her hips replaced, had a hysterectomy, suffered from dysentery and phlebitis, punctured her esophagus, survived a benign brain tumor operation in 1997 and skin cancer, and faced life-threatening bouts with pneumonia twice, one in 1961 requiring an emergency tracheotomy. In 1983 she admitted to having been addicted to sleeping pills and painkillers for 35 years. Taylor was treated for alcoholism and prescription drug addiction at the Betty Ford Center for seven weeks from December 1983 to January 1984, and again from the autumn of 1988 until early 1989.
On May 30, 2006, Taylor appeared on Larry King Live to refute the claims that she had been ill, and denied the allegations that she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and was close to death. Near the end of her life, however, she was reclusive and sometimes failed to make scheduled appearances due to illness or other personal reasons. She used a wheelchair and, when asked about it, stated that she had osteoporosis and was born with scoliosis.
The mutation that gave Taylor her striking double eyelashes may also have contributed to her history of heart trouble. In November 2004, Taylor announced a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, a progressive condition in which the heart is too weak to pump sufficient blood throughout the body, particularly to the lower extremities such as the ankles and feet. In 2009 she underwent cardiac surgery to replace a leaky valve. In February 2011, new symptoms related to heart failure caused her to be admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for treatment, where she remained until her death at age 79 on March 23, 2011, surrounded by her four children.
She was buried in a private Jewish ceremony, presided over by Rabbi Jerry Cutler, the day after she died, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Taylor is entombed in the Great Mausoleum, where public access to her tomb is restricted. At her request, the funeral began 15 minutes after it was scheduled to begin; as her representative told the media "She even wanted to be late for her own funeral."
Taylor has been called the "greatest movie star of all", writes biographer William J. Mann.:2 A child star at the age of 12, she soon after launched into public awareness by MGM and a string of successful films, many of which are today considered "classics". Her resulting celebrity made her into a Hollywood icon, as she set the "gold standard" for Hollywood fame, and "created the model for stardom", adds Mann.:3
Other observers, such as social critic Camille Paglia, similarly describe Taylor as "the greatest actress in film history," partly as a result of the "liquid realm of emotion" she expressed on screen. Paglia describes the effect Taylor had in some of her films:
An electric, erotic charge vibrates the space between her face and the lens. It is an extrasensory, pagan phenomenon.:4
Taylor had a major role in sparking the sexual revolution of the 1960s, as she pushed the envelope on sexuality: She was one of the first major stars to pose (mostly) nude in Playboy, and among the first to remove her clothes onscreen.:5 In A Place in the Sun, filmed when she was 17, her surprising maturity shocked Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, who wrote of her precocious sexuality. Film historian Andrew Sarris describes her love scenes in the film with Montgomery Clift as "unnerving—sybaritic—like gorging on chocolate sundaes".:6
In real life, she was considered "a star without airs", notes Mann. Writer Gloria Steinem likewise described her as a "movie queen with no ego...expert at what she does, uncatty in her work relationships with other actresses".:7 Mike Nichols, who directed her in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), said that of all the actors he’s worked with, Taylor had the "most democratic soul". Mann adds that she treated electricians and studio crew the "same way she would a Rothschild at a charity gala".:6 Director George Cukor told Taylor that she possessed "that rarest of virtues—simple kindness".:7
Taylor's ex?husband, actor Richard Burton, who co?starred with her in eleven films, expressed great admiration for her talent as an actress. Burton said, "I think she's one of the most underrated screen actresses that ever lived, and I think she's one of the best ones who ever lived. At her finest she's incomparable."