Screen icon Elizabeth Taylor dies

Anthony Barnes,Robert de,Pa
Wednesday 23 March 2011 18:34

Screen siren Dame Elizabeth Taylor, whose dazzling beauty and turbulent life made her one of the most famous stars in the world, has died at the age of 79.

She was hailed as "a Hollywood giant" and "the last of the great glamour stars" as friends and admirers paid tribute.

And the Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? actress was remembered for not only her movie work and her star quality but also her dedication to charity achievements, chiefly her Aids work.

She died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles this morning from congestive heart failure.

Dame Elizabeth, who lived almost her entire life in the spotlight after finding fame as a child star, had been plagued by ill-health for many years and had been in hospital for six weeks with heart problems.

Her son, Michael Wilding - one of four children - said: "My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humour, and love.

"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."

Sir Elton John, a long-time friend, said: "We have just lost a Hollywood giant. More importantly, we have lost an incredible human being."

The Oscar-winning star was renowned for her tumultuous personal life, as well as her mesmerising performances.

She was married eight times - twice to the Welsh acting titan Richard Burton - and had a lengthy battle with substance abuse.

The smouldering screen star was also one of the world's leading sex symbols, at one time her fragile beauty was rivalled only by Marilyn Monroe. She went on to become a gay icon.

Fan George Michael said: "Elizabeth Taylor was the last of the Hollywood greats, and a fantastically charming woman.

"She was also the only person I've ever met that had violet eyes. They were genuinely violet. So beautiful."

Veteran film-maker Michael Winner said: "Elizabeth Taylor was the last of the great glamour stars. She was the longest-running soap opera in history, and represented all the allure and tragedy that attracts people to Hollywood."

Mike Nichols, who directed Burton and Dame Elizabeth in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, said: "She is singular and indelible on film and in our hearts."

Dame Elizabeth was born in Hampstead, north London, to American parents who took her back to the US when she was a child at the outbreak of the Second World War.

She first found major movie fame with Lassie Come Home in 1943 and by the following year she had appeared in one of her most famous roles, as Velvet Brown in National Velvet.

Dame Elizabeth later became the first to receive one million dollars for a film role, and her movie career spanned more than 50 productions, including her sultry role in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

She was also noted for a lengthy and close friendship with the singer Michael Jackson, who died in June 2009.

He accompanied her to a gala tribute evening in her honour at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2000 and for many years onlookers speculated that the singer's repeated cosmetic surgery was to make him look like her.

Although her film work was long behind her - due to her frailty - she continued to remain in the public eye for her charitable work. She was a spokeswoman and fundraiser for many causes, most notably Aids research, and one of her three Oscars was to honour her humanitarian work.

There were continual health scares but she fought back time and again. Her first serious battle with illness flared up in 1961 - a near-fatal battle with pneumonia. Another followed in 1990, while a respiratory infection left her depleted in 1992.

Both hips were replaced within three years and she had a brain tumour removed in 1997.

Her congestive heart failure was diagnosed in 2004 and she revealed she needed surgery on Twitter in 2009.

For many years her public appearances had seen her using a wheelchair.

Dame Elizabeth's most celebrated relationship was with Burton, whom she met on the set of one of her defining movies, Cleopatra, when he played Mark Antony. Their romance captivated the world and she once declared: "If Richard and I divorce, I swear I will never marry anyone again. I love him insanely."

Divorce they did in 1974 after 10 years, and they remarried the following year, only to divorce once more in 1976.

They were reunited on stage in a 1982 touring production of Noel Coward's Private Lives and were close until Burton's death two years later.

Film critic and broadcaster Barry Norman had befriended her and said: "She was an extremely nice woman and wore her great fame very lightly. She certainly did not swagger about."

Others to speak highly of Dame Elizabeth included former chat host Larry King who said: "Elizabeth Taylor was a great friend, a great star and one gutsy woman. She was so special. You won't see the likes of her again."

Sir Michael Caine said: "She was a great human being."

Veteran actress Angela Lansbury - a contemporary of the star - said: "Elizabeth and I began our careers about the same time at MGM. Throughout her tumultuous life, she will be remembered for some unique and memorable work."

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