Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011: Actress, AIDS activist, and style icon

Photo by: Handout Photo
Bathing beauty-
Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from the 1959 film "Suddenly Last Summer."
1 / 20
Thu, Oct 6, 2011 3:15 PM EDT
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, one of the great actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age, died today at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, surrounded by her four children. She was 79.

Unlike the stars of today, who are often famous for being famous, Elizabeth Taylor was famous for being simply amazing. From her iconic style to her luminous beauty, her penchant for huge diamonds and her many marriages, the name Elizabeth Taylor is synonymous with glamour and activism, thanks to her tireless support for AIDS awareness and research.

The daughter of an art dealer and a former actress from Arkansas City, Kansas, Taylor was born in London on February 27, 1932, and moved to the United States in 1939, settling in Los Angeles. She appeared in her first movie, "There's One Born Every Minute," when she was 9. In spite of harsh criticism ("She can't sing, she can't dance, she can't perform," Universal Studios product chief Edward Muhl famously once said), she landed roles in three other movies before skyrocketing to stardom at the age of 12 in 1944's "National Velvet."

Taylor went on to act in in more than 70 movies and TV shows, including "Little Women," (1949), "Father of the Bride" (1950), "Cat on a Hot TIne Roof" (1958), "BUtterfield 8" (1960), "Cleopatra" (1963), "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?" (1966), and "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967).

In 1983, she co-founded what would later become the American Foundation for AIDS Research; she founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991. "It's bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance," she once said.

She won two Academy Awards for Best Actress and, in 1992, the Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Academy Award for her dedication to fighting AIDS. IN 1999, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Though known far and wide as Liz Taylor, she hated being called Liz "because it can sound like such a hiss," she told US Magazine in 2010.

Taylor was also known for her stunning, violet-colored eyes (which, thanks to a genetic mutation, were naturally framed by double rows of thick lashes), her many marriages (she was married eight times, to seven men-she married actor Richard Burton twice), and her passion for perfume and jewelry. "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," she once said. "I was hooked."

After years of dealing with several health problems including a broken back and a brain tumor, Taylor was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for congestive heart failure issues in February. She passed away on March 23, and is survived by her four children, 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

"I feel very adventurous," she once said. "There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them."

Here's a look back at a luminous actress, activist, and icon.