Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Memoriam: Dame Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

My continued fascination with all things Old-Hollywood has some sadness mixed in it, today. Dame Elizabeth Taylor, the Academy Award winning actress whose saucy screen persona, rocky personal life and enduring fame, class, magnetism and stunning beauty made her a template for the modern celebrity, died of Congestive Heart Failure early this morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 79 years old.

Truly one of the last of the iconic, Old-Hollywood movie stars, Taylor was named seventh on The American Film Institute's Female Legends list ... right smack-dab between #6 Marilyn Monroe and #8 Judy Garland. She starred in some 50 films, including screen classics such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, BUtterfield 8 - for which she won her first Academy Award for Best Actress, The Taming of the Shrew, Cleopatra - for which she received a staggering $1 million, a film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music and of course Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - the only film to be nominated in every eligible category at the Academy Awards ... including a Best Actress win for Taylor. Here's why:

Dame Elizabeth Taylor was not only an actress and Old-Hollywood icon, but she was also a humanitarian who worked tirelessly on behalf of AIDS research. She was also a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.

Her passion for jewelry was well-known and virtually un-paralleled. Over the years she owned a number of famous gems; most notably the 33.19-carat Krupp Diamond and the 69.42-carat pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond, which were among many gifts from husband Richard Burton. Taylor also owned the 50-carat La Peregrina Pearl, purchased by Burton as a Valentine's Day present in 1969. The pearl was formerly owned by Mary I of England, and to prove it Burton sought a portrait of Queen Mary wearing the pearl. After Burton purchased the painting, he and Taylor discovered that the British National Portrait Gallery did not have an original painting of Mary I, so they donated theirs to the gallery.

You can find out more about Taylor's passion for jewelry by checking out her collection as documented in the book Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry. She started designing jewels to be sold at Christie's House of Taylor. She also launched three perfumes, "Passion", "White Diamonds", and "Black Pearls", which, together, earn an estimated $200 million in annual sales.

In addition to her movie stardom and perfumes, Dame Elizabeth Taylor - who despised being called "Liz" - was probably best known for her slew of stormy marriages. She was married eight times to seven different husbands: Conrad "Nicky" Hilton (yes, *that* Hilton ... grand-uncle to Paris and Nicky), Michael Wilding, Michael Todd, Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton - X2, Senator John Warner (R-VA) and of course, Larry Fortensky. She had four children: two sons with Michael Wilding, one daughter with Michael Todd and one daughter (adopted) with Richard Burton. Her first grandchild was born when Taylor was only 39 years old. Nine other grandchildren would follow, as would four great-grandchildren.

As the news of Dame Elizabeth Taylor's death broke this morning, ABC News interrupted their regular programming to carry this Special Report:

Taylor's oldest son, Michael Wilding, memorialized his mother this way:
“My Mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love. Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world. Her remarkable body of work in film, her ongoing success as a businesswoman, and her brave and relentless advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, all make us all incredibly proud of what she accomplished. 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.”
Perhaps Dame Elizabeth Taylor's life is best summed up in her own words:
"I have never felt more alive than when I watched my children delight in something, never more alive than when I have watched a great artist perform, and never richer than when I have scored a big check to fight AIDS. Follow your passion, follow your heart, and the things you need will come."
Rest peacefully, Dame Elizabeth.

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