Actress. Born February 27, 1932, in London, England. In 1939, Taylor moved with her family to Los Angeles, to escape the havoc of World War II. Her black-haired, violet-eyed charm caught the eye of the Hollywood film world, and she made her screen debut at the age of 10 in the 1942 film There’s One Born Every Minute. After she was cast opposite Roddy McDowall in Lassie Come Home (1942), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed her to a studio contract. In 1944, Taylor’s performance as a young equestrian in National Velvet made her a bona fide child star. Other early films included Cynthia (1947), Life With Father (1947), and Little Women (1949).
Taylor began playing mature roles by the time she was a teenager—her first adult starring roles came in 1950, in Conspirator, co-starring Robert Taylor. She soon became a major adult star, starring in films like Father of the Bride (1950), opposite Spencer Tracy, and A Place in the Sun (1951), opposite Montgomery Clift. Generally considered one of the most beautiful women alive, Taylor earned an increased measure of critical respect as an actress in Giant (1956) and was nominated for an Oscar three times during the 1950s—for Raintree County (1957), and two film versions of Tennessee Williams plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly Last Summer (1959). She won her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as a prostitute in the melodramatic Butterfield 8 (1960). At the height of her marketability as an actress, Taylor agreed to star in an upcoming film, Cleopatra, for the then-record salary of $1 million.
By the time she earned her first adult role, however, Taylor’s personal life had begun to rival her film career for the public’s fascination: in 1950, at age 18, she embarked on the first of eight marriages, to hotel scion Nicky Hilton Jr. The couple divorced in 1951, and in 1952 Taylor married actor Michael Wilding, with whom she had two sons, Michael and Christopher. In 1956, she and Wilding divorced, and in 1957 Taylor married producer Mike Todd. The couple had a daughter, Elizabeth. In March 1958, Todd was killed in a plane crash in New Mexico. The flood of public sympathy for Taylor after this tragedy was cut off abruptly in 1959, when she began an affair with singer Eddie Fisher, who was married at the time to actress Debbie Reynolds. Taylor again earned a good deal of sympathy in March 1961, when she underwent a highly publicized near-death struggle with pneumonia and received an emergency tracheotomy.
By the time the lavish production of Cleopatra was finally completed in 1963, at an estimated total cost of $40 million, Taylor had fallen in love again, this time with her co-star in the film, Richard Burton, who was also married. Despite the couple’s off-screen chemistry, box office and critical reception for the film was unimpressive. As had been the case with Fisher—whom she had married in 1959—she was widely denounced for “stealing” Burton away from his wife. After divorcing their respective spouses, Taylor and Burton were married in 1964. In 1966, they starred together as a bitterly struggling middle-aged married couple in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Taylor’s searing performance won her a second Best Actress Oscar and cemented her reputation as a serious actress as well as one of the top box office draws of the 1960s.
Near the end of the decade, however, Taylor’s film career seemed to be in decline, as she starred in a number of disappointing vehicles, including Boom (1968), The Only Game in Town (1970), Hammersmith is Out (1972), The Driver’s Seat (1974) and The Blue Bird (1976). The 1980 film The Mirror Crack’d marked her last feature film appearance for the next 14 years. In 1981, she made her debut on Broadway, in the Lillian Hellman play The Little Foxes, earning a Tony Award nomination. In 1983, Taylor co-founded the Elizabeth Theater Group, which produced several stage revivals, including Noel Coward’s Private Lives, in which she and Burton starred.
Meanwhile, Taylor’s tempestuous personal life continued to make headlines. Her marriage to Burton, whom Taylor later called the great love of her life, ended in divorce in 1974; they remarried in 1975, only to divorce again less than a year later. They had one daughter, Maria. Burton died in 1984. In 1976, Taylor married John Warner, a U.S. Republican senator from Virginia. They divorced in 1982, and in 1983, Taylor entered the Betty Ford Clinic to overcome her dependency on alcohol. She returned again to the clinic in 1988, this time for an addiction to painkillers.
Taylor made memorable appearances in several television movies, including Malice in Wonderland (1985) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1989); on TV shows like General Hospital and The Simpsons (as the voice of Baby Maggie); and had a cameo role in a film version of The Flinstones in 1994. Her limited acting career took a backseat to her pursuit of humanitarian causes—most notably AIDS research. After her good friend, Rock Hudson, died of the disease in 1985, Taylor helped start the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) and publicly criticized the government’s lack of funding for such a worthy cause. In 1993, she created her own foundation, the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation for AIDS. She was one of the first major celebrities to go public with her support for AIDS victims, and by 1999 she had helped raise an estimated $50 million to fight the disease. She also launched two perfumes, Passion and White Diamonds, both of which played on her legendary beauty and movie star allure. Together, sales of the scents bring in an estimated $200 million annually. In 1999, Taylor was made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
Neither Taylor’s marital ups-and-downs nor her battle with her weight were ever far from the public eye. In 1991, she married Larry Fortensky--a construction worker thirty years her junior whom she met at the Ford clinic--at the Wonderland Ranch, owned by her close friend Michael Jackson (no stranger to tabloid attention himself). She and Fortensky divorced in 1997. From the mid-1990s, Taylor again captured headlines with her repeated health scares: she had hip replacements in 1994 and 1995 and had a benign brain tumor removed in 1997. In 1998 and 1999, she suffered two falls in her Bel Air home, repeatedly injuring her lower back. And in 2002, she was successful treated for a curable form a skin cancer. Despite such incidents, her energy for her various causes and her family—she has nine grandchildren and a great-grandson—remain undiminished. In 2003, the 71-year-old actress announced she would be retiring from the acting world to devote her energies to the fight against AIDS.
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