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Elizabeth Taylor - Biography

The late Elizabeth Taylor is regarded as one of the most iconic stars of classical Hollywood cinema

Elizabeth Taylor poses in a red dress
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Elizabeth Taylor's Early Life

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London on February 27, 1932, to American parents – an art dealer father and actress mum. In 1939, WWII drove the family back to the US where they settled in Los Angeles.

Soon, encouraged by a family friend, Elizabeth took her first Hollywood screen test, and before long got her big break with a role in the 1942 short film, There's One Born Every Minute. Studio bosses were impressed with her luminescent screen presence, and after her first feature film Lassie Come Home was released her budding career as a child actor began to take off. 

Elizabeth Taylor's Rise to Stardom 

Then, in 1944, National Velvet transformed her into a bona fide star. Elizabeth made a smooth transition to grown-up roles in the 1950s, earning her first Oscar nod a best actress nomination for Raintree County in 1958. She would garner two more nominations before winning her first trophy for 1961's Butterfield 8, and a second for Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf in 1967. 

Elizabeth Taylor's Personal Life

As her progress to movie icon continued, Elizabeth was also gaining fame off-screen for her string of husbands. Eight marriages to seven men, to be exact. Her first marriage, a ten-month union with hotel heir Nicky Hilton ended in 1951 and was followed by a second round of nuptials, with Michael Wilding, in 1952. The couple had two sons, Christopher and Michael Jr, before splitting in 1957 when she tied the knot once again, this time with Hollywood producer Mike Todd just days after the divorce was finalised. Elizabeth was said to be most content during her relationship with Mike, but tragically, he was killed in a plane crash just after their first anniversary and the birth of their daughter Elizabeth Frances.

It wasn't long before Elizabeth fell in love again, however, this time with entertainer Eddie Fisher. The pair were married just over a year after she became a widow. When it began the romance caused a scandal, as Eddie was wed to Singin' In The Rain star Debbie Reynolds at the time, earning Elizabeth a reputation as a man-stealer. "In the old days, if Elizabeth saw a man she wanted, she got him, no matter who she stepped over," septuagenarian Debbie, who would become a close friend of Elizabeth's, said in 2001. "She laughs a lot about why in the world she wanted Eddie. It was just because Mike Todd had died, and Eddie was his best friend. She thought she should be with him so they could talk about Mike Todd all the time." 

The union lasted nearly half a decade but came to an end after she met the man she would wed twice, actor Richard Burton, on the set of 1963's Cleopatra. The chemistry between the two stars was so fiery director Joseph Mankiewicz described it as "like being locked in a cage with two tigers".

Though both were married - Elizabeth to Eddie Fisher and Richard his first wife - they promptly ended their respective unions, and violet-eyed Liz made her vows to the brooding Welshman in 1964, the same month her marriage to Eddie came to a legal end. Liz and Dick, as they came to be known, became one of the most famous pairings in Tinseltown history; icons in the films they made together, such as Cleopatra and Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, and symbols of jet-set glamour in real life.

During their volatile relationship, in the course of which they adopted a daughter, Maria Carson, they also became famed for fighting and making up with equal passion, divorcing in 1974, remarrying in 1975, and re-divorcing in 1976. Though love didn't seem to last for the star - subsequent marriages included a six-year union with congressman John Warner beginning in 1976, and a five-year relationship with construction worker Larry Fortensky, who she met in rehab in 1991. 

Elizabeth Taylor's Iconic Jewellery Collection

One thing Elizabeth could always depend on was her famed jewellery collection. Over the years, the actress owned a number of well-known pieces - the Krupp, Taylor-Burton and Taj Mahal diamonds, as well as the La Peregrina pearl.

According to legend, Princess Margaret spotted the 39-carat Krupp diamond on Elizabeth Taylor's finger and exclaimed, "That's the most vulgar thing I've ever seen!". The actress offered to let the stylish royal try on the bauble, one of many dazzling gifts from fifth husband, Richard Burton. Watching the Princess' eyes sparkle as she examined the jewel, the quick-witted star famously quipped: "See? It's not so vulgar now, is it?"

"I have loved jewellery all my life," said Elizabeth, who penned a book on the subject in 2002. "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 her engagement ring. I was hooked." 

Elizabeth Taylor's AIDS Activism

Elizabeth will also be remembered for her pioneering work for the AIDS cause, which began when her close friend Rock Hudson died in 1985. "It was a moment when fury overtook me and left me shaking with rage," she said.

"I thought, everybody in town is whispering about AIDS, giving such a stigma to this disease... I got really angry that nobody was doing anything. Instead of ranting and raving to myself, I thought, 'What have I done?'" 

The Hollywood legend decided to establish The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1991 to raise funds and awareness to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. The foundation has continued to raise hundreds of millions of dollars while providing direct care, along with love and moral support, to the most vulnerable patients. 

Elizabeth Taylor's Final Years

Elizabeth struggled with her own health over the years, cheating death on more than one occasion. She broke her back at least five times, and had three bouts of pneumonia of which one, in 1961, required a tracheotomy, and another, in 1990, nearly killed her.

Then there were the two hip-replacement operations and surgery to remove a benign golf ball-sized brain tumour, plus two stints at the Betty Ford clinic. By all estimates, she was hospitalised at least 30 times during her lifetime. Despite her health woes or perhaps because of them, Elizabeth retained her sense of humour. 

In 1999, asked what she would like to see written on her gravestone, she replied: "Here lies Elizabeth. She hated being called Liz. But she lived. "Sadly, the screen icon's health problems finally got the better of her, aged 79. 

Elizabeth passed away peacefully on March 23, 2011 – a few months after being admitted to hospital to receive treatment for congestive heart failure. "My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humour, and love. Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world," said son Michael Wilding – one of Elizabeth's four children.

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