Sarah Sands: Death in Hollywood: Cleopatra hunched in a wheelchair

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The Independent Online

It is both shocking and poig-nantly apt that Dame Elizabeth Taylor was kept waiting for nearly two hours among empty chairs for Michael Jackson's funeral to begin. It is shocking because she is one of the last links with old Hollywood.

Her love-you-until-you-die relationship with Jackson barely survived their first encounter, when she was placed too far back at one of his shows. "Michael, a star such as myself never sits in cheap seats," she reportedly told him, her violet rage reducing him to tears. Neither could she be expected to attend his earlier memorial service, which she described as a "public hoopla".

"I just don't believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others," she wrote on Twitter, to millions of others.

What is apt is that the 77-year-old has been consigned to death's waiting room for about the past 20 years. Every time she puts on her diamonds and furs a hushed entertainment press speculates that it is her last outing.

When Michael Jackson died, Dame Elizabeth collapsed with "stress" and was taken to hospital. She described her feelings: "My heart, my mind are broken ... I can't imagine life without him." Meanwhile, her publicist was denying hopeful press questions about Taylor being on " suicide watch". Hollywood journalists must calculate that reports of her death will not always be exaggerated. One time out of a hundred, they are going to turn out to be true.

Thus Dame Elizabeth's appearance is as assiduously reported on as it ever was, but for macabre reasons. Her most recent visit to hospital is written up as a kind of medical version of Jennifer's Diary: "She wore purple slippers with funny animal faces. A tube protruded from underneath her personal wheelchair, most likely an instrument to facilitate her medical condition."

The fact that Marlon Brando's troll- like, good-natured son Miko carried the fragile old film star up the steps of the mausoleum to see off Jackson's coffin, was bizarre and sweet. Here was a former Cleopatra, hunched in a wheelchair, with her bearskin hairdo, lifted by the son of one of the most beautiful and later the most grotesque men in Hollywood.

We have read much about the fates of Jackson's children now he is dead, but more to the point, who will look after Elizabeth Taylor? She attributed her bond with Jackson to the fact that they both had lousy working childhoods. Cruel critics have alighted on a closer physical similarity. Who was playing whom by the end?

When Miko Brando was asked if he noticed anything strange about Jackson in private, such as his entourage of doctors, he shrugged: "Well, we all have doctors."

The rich and famous are different from us: they all have doctors in waiting. They become like Chairman Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, who would wail: "I have been feeling as if I am going to die any minute. I feel full of terror all the time."

The full horror of Jackson has lain in the posthumous tours of his bedrooms and the inventories of wigs, nappies, syringes and piles of pills. These were the rooms in which Dame Elizabeth would spoon-feed him. Fellow stars, invalids and playmates in Neverland.

One has to admire Dame Elizabeth Taylor for refusing to be dead, for dolling herself up as if she were still Cleopatra, still longingly embraced by Richard Burton.

But the pathos is overwhelming. The present is a mockery of the past. We all get old and ill, but the last place on earth you would want to be is Hollywood.

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