On March 23, 2011, actress Elizabeth Taylor died. Taylor was best known for her role in the Golden Era of Hollywood, starring in popular movies such as A Place in the Sun, Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, BUtterfield 8 and Cleopatra. Later in her life, she became an advocate for HIV and AIDS awareness and research.
Taylor was born to two American parents in London, England in 1932. They soon returned to the United States and settled in Los Angeles where people began to encourage Taylor’s mother, who was a former actress, to screen test her daughter because of her incredible beauty. The idea of a child star was something very foreign to Taylor’s mother, and she refused to allow her daughter to be a part of the industry until both Universal Pictures and MGM were offering Taylor contracts. After starring in a Lassie film, she was offered a long-term contract with MGM starting in 1943. Her breakout role came the next year when the 12-year-old starred in National Velvet.
As she grew older, instead of fading out of the spotlight like most child actors of the time, her star only began to shine brighter. Because of her incredible beauty, she became known as a sex symbol and a quintessential part of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She starred in many films during this time starting most notably with Father of the Bride alongside Spencer Tracy, and moving on to other big hits like Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Cleopatra (which cost around $37 million to make). She later starred in two movies which she received Academy Awards for – BUtterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Taylor’s acting career was not the only thing that kept her in the spotlight. Ever since the age of 18, Taylor’s personal life had been a roller coaster, and in her lifetime she was married a total of eight times, with most of these marriages being short-lived. Her most well-known love affair was with Richard Burton, whom she first met on the set of Cleopatra and subsequently married and divorced twice. Their relationship was passionate and volatile, and Burton once said of it, ”You can’t keep clapping a couple of sticks [of dynamite] together without expecting them to blow up.”
Also known for her love of jewelry, Taylor’s jewelry collection was estimated to be worth $150 million at the time of her death. She owned some of the most famous jewelry pieces in the world, including the Krupp Diamond, and the Taylor-Burton Diamond – both bought for her by Richard Burton. She also possessed the La Peregrina Pearl, which has a history spanning 500 years.
In her later years, she took on acting roles less and instead focused more on her philanthropic efforts. When her lifelong friend, Rock Hudson, died in 1985 after battling HIV/AIDS, she started to bring the disease to national attention by helping to found the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. She also started her own jewelry and perfume lines as part of her own entrepreneurial efforts.
In the 1990s, she had mostly retired from the world of acting and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1993. In 2000, she was honored again, but this time by the country she was born in when she became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). By this time her health had begun to decline and she suffered from diabetes, congestive heart failure, had both hips replaced, and had a brain tumor removed. It is reported that she went through over 30 surgeries. She was admitted into Cedars-Sinai Hospital for congestive heart failure in February 2011, and died on March 23, 2011.
Years earlier, in an interview with Barbara Walters, the reporter asked Taylor how she would like to be remembered after she was gone. She said she would like her tombstone to read, “‘Here lies Liz. She lived,’” before admitting, “No, I don’t like ‘Liz.’ I hate that name. ‘Here lies Elizabeth. She hated being called Liz. But she lived.’”