After a long struggle, screen legend Elizabeth Taylor succumbed this morning to congestive heart failure. She was 79. Born in England in 1932, Taylor and her family moved to America when the actress was only seven and, at the tender age of nine, Taylor signed her first studio contract. The studio took notice of Taylor for her astonishing looks and, after a few films, cast her in what would be her breakthrough role as Velvet Brown in National Velvet In that film, the 12-year-old Taylor proved herself to be more than a pretty face and succeeded in capturing the hearts of the entire nation.
Unlike many other actresses to achieve such fame so young, Taylor transitioned rather seamlessly into adult roles with both light fare (Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy) and melodramatic turns (A Place in the Sun opposite close friend Montgomery Clift). Though universally praised for her work in 1951’s A Place in the Sun, it wasn’t until 1956 that Taylor again got the chance to truly shine, this time opposite Rock Hudson and James Dean in the sprawling epic Giant. Taylor famously expressed her frustration with being type cast saying, “If you were considered pretty, you might as well have been a waitress trying to act - you were treated with no respect at all.”
But after the success of Giant, and at the age of 24, Taylor became a genuine screen goddess, in full possession of both her knock-out looks and magnetic screen presence. She was nominated for an Academy Award three years in a row (Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly, Last Summer) and finally won for her roles in BUtterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It’s in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf that Taylor’s talent is shown to its greatest advantage. Harnessing all of the power that made her Maggie the Cat so captivating, Taylor owns every scene she’s in. Taylor, heavier and in age make-up, proved she need not rely on her good looks to demand the audience’s attention and took a ripping bite out of this role, holding her own opposite her real-life husband, Richard Burton.
Her controversial marriage to Burton (they met on the set of Cleopatra when they were each married to other people) was one of Taylor’s many high-profile relationships, but her enduring legacy is her films, not her tabloid romances. Later in life, as her acting career waned, Taylor become a highly vocal advocate for gay rights and AIDS research. After the death of longtime friend Rock Hudson, Taylor helped start the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and her own AIDS foundation, the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation (ETAF). Truly talented and undeniably gorgeous inside and out, Elizabeth Taylor was Hollywood royalty and will be missed.