Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011: The loss of a legend

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By Stephanie Holland / Senior Staff Assistant

By Stephanie Holland / Senior Staff Assistant

Icon. Legend. Movie Star.


These words are thrown around Hollywood a lot, but Dame Elizabeth Taylor was all of these and more. The term movie star was created for her. She was at one point the most popular, highest paid and revered actress in the world.


The legendary actress passed away March 23 at the age of 79 from congestive heart failure and Hollywood seems a little less glamorous because of the loss.


Her first big break came when she was 12 in “National Velvet.” That film led to appearances in “Little Women,” “Father of the Bride” and “A Place in the Sun” with frequent co-star Montgomery Clift.


It was around this time that she married her first husband Nicky Hilton. The turbulent marriage only lasted eight months, but it was the beginning of the press’ fascination with Taylor.


Following the rave reviews she received for “A Place in the Sun,” it was few years and several lackluster roles before MGM gave her a part she could shine in.


It was during this time that she married her second husband Michael Wilding, who she was with for five years before divorcing him and marrying Mike Todd.

Unfortunately, she and Todd were only together for a year when he died in a plane crash.


This was also when her career picked up steam with Taylor starring alongside James Dean and Rock Hudson in “Giant” and once again teaming with Clift in “Raintree County” for which she received her first Oscar nomination.


Her follow up performance as Maggie the Cat in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” earned her another Academy Award nomination and solidified her as the biggest star in the world.


She also continued to sell newspapers when Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds to marry her. Though her personal life overshadowed her career at times, it was impossible for the public to deny her talent as she won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1961 for “Butterfield 8.”


In the film, she met rumors head on as she tore up the screen as a promiscuous and defiant model. Watching the film now, the dialogue doesn’t feel fake, it sounds like Taylor is talking about herself and not a fictional character.


When she was paid $1 million to make “Cleopatra” she became the highest paid actress working in Hollywood. At the time, the film was the most expensive ever made, unfortunately, audiences stayed away and it is considered one of the biggest financial flops of all time.


However, it was during the filming of “Cleopatra” that Taylor met Richard Burton. She and Burton began a torrid affair, which was quite scandalous since they were both married to other people at the time. Public backlash of the affair is often blamed for the film’s poor performance.


While the film may have performed poorly in its day, in recent years Taylor’s version of Cleopatra only heightened her legend, with a doll created in her likeness from the movie.


Burton and Taylor were married and divorced twice, with him becoming her fifth and sixth husbands. They also co-starred in six films together and Taylor later admitted that Burton was the great love of her life.


Following the death of her friend Rock Hudson, Taylor became an activist against AIDS, co-founding the American Foundation for AIDS Research and her own Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.


She fought against AIDS and for gay rights long before it was fashionable to do so and inspired many younger stars to use their fame for humanitarian purposes.


Her various charity works are thought to have raised more than $270 million to help fight and treat AIDS.


It is impossible to state how big a star Taylor was at her peak. She was the constant subject of tabloid headlines, with her most personal struggles splashed across front pages around the world. She was a trendsetter, a trailblazer and the embodiment of Hollywood glamour.


Now those same front pages are overflowing with tributes to the last great legendary movie star.


Taylor is survived by her four children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.


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