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Elizabeth Taylor: the life of a screen icon and Hollywood beauty

23 MARCH 2011 Tinseltown's most passionate love story

As the world mourns one of the greatest actresses we look back at an incredible life in showbusiness.

 

One of the last stars from the Golden Age of movie magic, Elizabeth was the quintessential screen icon. Here, we celebrate the violet-eyed star's extraordinary life.

Early years

Elizabeth Rosamond Taylor was born in Hampstead, London on February 27, 1932 to American parents.

She was the second child of Francis Taylor, an art dealer and his wife Sara, a former actress, her older brother Howard Taylor was born in 1929.

 

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When Britain entered World War II the family decided to relocate to Los Angeles and the home of Hollywood. Elizabeth was seven at the time.

There a family friend suggested that the already striking little beauty should be taken for a screen test and the rest, as they say, is show-business history.

A Star is Born

Elizabeth made her first movie when she was just nine-years-old, starring in Universal Picture's There's One Born Every Minute.

She was soon picked up by MGM and appeared in Lassie Come Home but her big break came as young equestrienne Velvet Brown in National Velvet opposite Michael Rooney.


The all-time classic grossed over $4million at the box office. At 12 she was MGM's biggest child star and at 15 had appeared alongside movie greats such as William Powell and Irene Sunne in Life With Father.

The Taylors' daughter virtually grew up in the movie studios. Elizabeth attended school on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot and received a diploma from University High School in LA in 1950, the same year she first married at the tender age of 18.

She later famously remarked: "I have a woman's body and a child's emotions".

It was this unreal childhood that cemented her bond with another child star, Michael Jackson, in the Eighties.

Screen Icon

Famed for her dazzling violet-blue eyes and devastating looks, Elizabeth was hailed as one of the world's great beauties.

In her twenties she was an established actress, easily making the leap from child roles to grittier, emotional parts.

She produced a number of Oscar-nominated performances including an iconic turn as Maggie in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof in 1958 for which she won rave reviews.

Finally in 1960 she brought home the prestigious Academy Award for the role of call girl Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield 8.

Fate was to intervene in her professional life when in 1963 she starred opposite Richard Burton in Cleopatra.

 

 

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She received $1million, an unprecedented pay packet for an actress in those days. But it wasn't the salary that caught her eye, it was her co-star and future husband number five.

She earned a second Oscar in 1966 for her brilliant portrayal as the shrewish Martha in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, still regarded as one of her best performances.

The versatile actress also appeared a number of times on TV, including The Simpsons, and on stage, notably in a production of Noel Coward's Private Lives (1983) alongside Burton.

Jewels

From an early age the actress, who famously declared that "big girls need big diamonds", had a passion for jewels.

"My mother says I didn't open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw was an engagement ring. I was hooked."

She's had her fair share of engagement sparklers courtesy of her seven husbands.

Among her most valuable rings was the huge 29-carat diamond from third husband Michael Todd.

In 1969 Richard Burton spectacularly trumped that with a 69-carat pear shaped diamond from Cartier which became known as the legendary Burton-Taylor diamond.

 

 

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Her collection of famous pieces also included the 33.19 carat Krupp Diamond and the La Peregina Pearl, both gifts from Burton which are immortalized in her book My Love Affair With Jewellery.

Not one to get sentimental, she auctioned off many of her prized gems for charity, including her diamond and emerald engagement ring from Richard to raise money for AIDS research.

Two great loves

Elizabeth's love life was both colourful and tragic.

Married eight times to seven husbands, she once joked: "I'm a very committed wife. And I should be committed, too - for being married so many times."

She was wife to hotel heir Conrad Hilton, Brit actor Michael Wilding with whom she has two sons, entrepreneur Michael Todd, US movie star Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton twice over, US senator John Warner and finally construction worker Larry Fortensky, who was 20 years her junior.

She only regarded two of her husbands as true soul mates.

She was devastated when third husband Mike Todd died in a plane crash. They had one daughter together, Elizabeth Francis Todd born in 1957.

 


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It was her passionate relationship with Richard Burton, however, which sparked a worldwide paparazzi frenzy and became one of the great love stories of the 20th century.


They began an affair while she was married to Eddie Fisher.

Elizabeth was deeply attracted to her Cleopatra co-star, "he's a very sexy man," she said. "He's got that sort of jungle essence that one can sense."

Meanwhile, her former husband acknowledged that Elizabeth's looks were "so sexy they were tantamount to walking pornography".

Yet for all their love for each other they couldn't live together and got married and divorced twice over, finally ending their partnership in 1976.

Good works

Elizabeth dedicated much of her later life to charity work and became one of the first celebrities to support AIDS research after the death of her close friend Rock Hudson, who died of the virus in 1985.

Her first fundraising efforts were supported by her famous pals Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, while more recently she regularly teamed up with Elton John.

The actress helped establish the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985 and set up the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS foundation in 1991.

She has been recognized for her philanthropy both in the States and the country of her birth.

In 1999 she was awarded a Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for both her contribution to cinematic history and work with AIDS.

Thrilled with the honour she joked: "I've always been a broad, now I'm a dame."

Two years later US President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal in recognition of her commitment to good causes.

 

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The star's own catalogue of health problems gave her a unique empathy with those who suffer. "I'm a survivor - a living example of what people can go through, and survive."

She has broken her back several times, had a brain tumor removed, been treated for skin cancer and struck down by near-fatal pneumonia.

Despite the physical torment, she astounded everyone with her bravery.

Always keeping a sense of humour, she declared she would like her gravestone to read: "Here lies Elizabeth. She hated being called Liz. But she lived".

Elizabeth passed away peacefully on March 23, 2011.

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