Elizabeth Taylor, the glamorous queen of American movie stardom, whose achievements as an actress were often overshadowed by her rapturous looks and real-life dramas, died on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, with her four children at her side. She was 79.
Tributes flowed from singer Elton John, who extolled her as “a Hollywood giant,” to former President Clinton, who honored her at the White House in 2001 and called her “thoroughly American royalty.”
During a career that spanned six decades, the legendary beauty with lavender eyes won two Oscars and made more than 50 films, performing alongside such fabled leading men as Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton, whom she married twice. She took her cues from a Who’s Who of directors, including George Cukor, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, George Stevens, Vincente Minnelli and Mike Nichols.
Long after she faded from the screen, she remained a mesmerizing figure, blessed and cursed by the extraordinary celebrity that molded her life through its many phases: She was a child star who bloomed gracefully into an ingenue; a femme fatale on the screen and in life; a canny peddler of high-priced perfume; a pioneering activist in the fight against AIDS.
Some actresses, such as Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, won more awards and critical plaudits, but none matched Taylor’s hold on the collective imagination. In the public’s mind, she was the dark goddess for whom playing Cleopatra as she did with such notoriety, required no great leap from reality.
Taylor, New York Times critic Vincent Canby once wrote, “has grown up in the full view of a voracious public for whom the triumphs and disasters of her personal life have automatically become extensions of her screen performances. She’s different from the rest of us.”
We honor her life and her work in a photographic journey spanning more than half a century.