Elizabeth Taylor: Violet-eyed movie queen

Elizabeth Taylor, who has died at the age of 79, was the archetypal Hollywood movie queen, a violet-eyed beauty known equally for her stormy romances and eight marriages as her Oscar-winning performances.

Over a five-decade career she won two Academy Awards for best actress, including in the 1966 classic "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" one of many films where she played opposite her two-times husband Richard Burton.

In later years as her health failed she retired from the public gaze, although she notably attended the 2009 funeral of her long-time friend Michael Jackson, while she remained active in raising funds to battle AIDS/HIV.

Born in London February 27, 1932, she was evacuated to California with her American parents in 1939, where she was soon discovered at her father's art gallery by the fiancee of the chairman of Universal Studios.

She debuted in 1942 in "There's One Born Every Minute," and by 1944 had become a child star with "National Velvet," the story of a girl who rides her horse to victory at the Grand National disguised as a boy.

"Before men, my great love was for animals, which I still have," Taylor would later say.

Schooled on the set, it wasn't long before her attention turned to men.

She married for the first time in 1950, aged 18, to playboy hotel chain heir Nicky Hilton. The marriage lasted 203 days, collapsing amid verbal and physical abuse after a lavish Hollywood wedding and a three-month European honeymoon.

Taylor moved on, and by 1952 she had tied the knot with British matinee idol Michael Wilding, 19 years her senior. They had two children, Michael Jr. and Christopher.

Though Taylor said Wilding gave her stability, it wasn't enough. She filed for divorce in 1956, and within days of the separation producer Michael Todd, 49, proposed.

Tough and domineering, he was Taylor's first great love. They had a daughter, Elizabeth Frances, in August 1957, but seven months later tragedy struck: Todd was killed in a plane crash in New Mexico.

Devastated, Taylor was accompanied at Todd's funeral by his best friend, singer Eddie Fisher, whose wife actress Debbie Reynolds stayed home in California to take care of Taylor's children.

From grieving widow to homewrecker, Taylor made a lightning change of roles, stealing Fisher from Reynolds in an affair that scandalized puritanical America.

They married in 1959, but the public outrage nearly killed Taylor's flourishing acting career.

She had just finished filming the Tennessee Williams classic "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) with Paul Newman, and had already earned critical raves with "Giant" (1956), the Texas oil patch epic with Rock Hudson and James Dean.

But her flame only burned brighter. She made Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer" in 1959 with Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift.

The following year, she won her first Oscar for best actress for her portrayal of a high-class call girl in "Butterfield 8." Taylor is said to have hated the movie.

Then came "Cleopatra" (1962) - "surely the most bizarre piece of entertainment ever perpetrated," Taylor said of the production, at the time the most expensive in Hollywood history. Taylor was paid a record million dollars.

The movie flopped, but the Roman set was the backdrop for a sizzling love affair that made headlines around the world: Taylor and her leading man, Burton, who was married.

"Elizabeth looks at you with those eyes, and your blood churns," said Burton, a Shakesperean actor hailed as the next Lawrence Olivier.

They married in March 1964 in Montreal. By the time they were filming "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," the harrowing portrayal of a marriage torn by booze, bitterness and failure mirrored their own.

They divorced in June, 1974 and remarried in October of the following year in Botswana, only to divorce again in August, 1976. Before he died, Burton commented: "We never really split up - and we never will."

The marriage left Taylor an alcoholic, and her career in decline. A seventh marriage to Virginia Senator John Warner, from 1976 to 1982, failed to cure the blues.

In and out of California's Betty Ford Clinic in the 1980s, she overcame her alcoholism and a dependence on painkillers and emerged as a champion in the cause of AIDS victims.

In 1991, she stunned the world by marrying husband No. 8: Larry Fortensky, a 40-year-old construction worker she met in rehab. They parted amicably three years later.

Taylor's health continued to deteriorate. In 1997, she underwent surgery to have a brain tumor removed and in 2006 she appeared on US television to deny rumors she had Alzheimer's disease.

In July 2008, she was hospitalized but her spokesman denied reports that she was close to death, while in 2009, she underwent heart surgery to repair a "leaky valve," tweeting afterwards: "It's like having a brand new ticker."

She was admitted to hospital in early February 2011 for "symptoms caused by congestive heart failure," an ongoing condition, said her publicist Sally Morrison.

jm-mt/ag

 

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen