A movie legend ended this morning: Elizabeth Taylor, who battled congestive heart failure for many years, died in a Los Angeles hospital at the age of 79. Though an acclaimed screen actress who successfully transitioned from child star (“National Velvet”) to a varied grown-up career, every portion of her life made headlines: her many marriages, her dramatic health problems, her charity work (much of it in the field of HIV/AIDS, in which Taylor was a pioneering voice), her love for elaborate jewelry, her dazzling beauty. (I remember, as a child, staring mesmerized at a picture of Taylor in a magazine; she truly did have violet eyes, and wore a diamond larger than I could have ever imagined.) Taylor’s son Michael Wilding announced her death, with a touching statement that included the phrase “We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it.”
A five-time Academy Award nominee, Taylor won Best Actress twice, for “Butterfield 8” and, in what many called the great performance of her career, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” In the film, based on the Edward Albee play, Taylor played Martha, a miserable faculty wife (the character was 15 years older than Taylor) with a foul mouth and a drinking problem; she was cast opposite her then-husband, Richard Burton. The film became the box-office hit of 1966; here’s a glimpse.
Taylor made few big-screen appearances after the ’70s, due to ill health and a lack of good roles. But she devoted herself for many years to AIDS work, ultimately raising, according to the Los Angeles Times, more than $270 million for the cause. From her obituary today:
In late 2007 she made a rare return to the stage to raise another million in a benefit performance of A.R. Gurney’s bittersweet play “Love Letters” at Paramount Studios. Striking Writers Guild members temporarily laid down their picket signs to allow Taylor and guests to support the event without guilt or rancor. After her moving reading brought the audience to its feet, the frail actress stood up from her wheelchair to acknowledge the ovation. She was still regal — and dripping diamonds.
Well done, Ms. Taylor.