The Web lit up like a Christmas tree this morning with the sad but not unexpected news of Elizabeth Taylor’s death of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles at age 79. Fifty-three years ago–almost to the day–Taylor escaped dying in a plane crash. The petite actress had been in failing health for many years. Taylor was fragile even back in 1993 when she attended Cannes to run the amfAR auction at the height of her AIDS activism. I’ll never forget walking up the red carpet stairs of the Palais behind Sylvester Stallone as he advanced to meet Taylor, waiting for him at the top, wearing white and holding her beloved little white dog in her arms. As had always been the case throughout her 70-year career spanning 50 films, the media went wild around Taylor, who was so beautiful that folks tended not to remember what an accomplished actress she really was.
The Academy did reward her with five Oscar nominations and two wins, although many thought she won for 1960’s Butterfield 8 out of sympathy for an emergency tracheotomy during the filming of Cleopatra. She was paid an astronomical $2 million for that overwrought epic, which launched her legendary romance with Richard Burton (who she married twice), and nearly brought down studio Twentieth Century Fox. Mike Nichols, who directed Taylor’s Oscar-winning performance as an angry drunken wife opposite husband Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, considered her “one of the greatest cinema actresses.”
Check out more photos, links and video clips from her films below.
[In National Velvet, Otto Dyar/Fondation John Kobal, 1944.]
Taylor and Burton made a total of 11 movies together. In 1986 the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Taylor tribute inspired NYT critic Vincent Canby to write:
“More than anyone else I can think of, Elizabeth Taylor represents the complete movie phenomenon—what movies are as an art and an industry and what they have meant to those of us who have grown up watching them in the dark.”
In 1993, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences gave Taylor the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her AIDS work and the AFI gave her their Lifetime Achievement Award. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) honored Dame Taylor with the Vanguard Award at the 11th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2000 for her work to increase the visibility and understanding of the LGBT community.
Here are obits from The New York Times with photo gallery, and The Los Angeles Times with A Life in Movies photo gallery. Variety’s excellent obit states that Taylor was “an exception” in an era dominated by male stars.
Yahoo lists her film and theatre credits; The Guardian has her Career in Clips and Life in Pictures. The Wrap posts a photo gallery, as does The Huffington Post and THR. Time has Taylor’s last interview.
Producer Cassian Elwes (@cassianelwes) posted his Taylor obit in the form of tweets, which are here cleaned up and assembled into a coherent narrative. His step-father Elliott Kastner produced A Little Night Music and knew Taylor quite well:
So sad about Elizabeth Taylor. She really was a lovely lady–very funny, very earthy. She was a real movie star. When Taylor came to London to do “X, Y and Z” they wouldn’t let her dogs in and she wanted to quit. Elliott rented a yacht on the Thames for the dogs. My parents were singing “Send in the Clowns” endlessly from A Little Night Music. Elliott’s dream was to get Taylor to sing it so he made the film. Taylor kept saying she couldn’t sing but Elliott wouldn’t take no for an answer and in the end she did a good job in “A Little Night Music.” Her great love of course was Burton who she married twice. She quit the first time when he was drinking heavily. But she always loved him. When we were doing “Absolution” with Burton she showed up unexpectedly one day–she was married to someone else but you could see her feelings. They did “Love Letters” on stage later on and realized they had so much love for each other they got back together.
A roundup of celebrity tweets includes Steve Martin’s: “I met Elizabeth Taylor several times. She was witty and self-deprecating, which I found surprising and delightful. She loved to laugh.” @VanityFair tweets a quote from Dominick Dunne: “If you ever hear anybody refer to Elizabeth Taylor as Liz Taylor, you can be pretty sure the person doesn’t know her.” @DameElizabeth was no stranger to tweeting either. Her last tweet was: “Every breath you take today should be with someone else in mind. I love you.” Here are some of Taylor’s memorable quotes, including: “I have a woman’s body and a child’s emotions.”
In Giant (Sid Avery, 1955)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman (William Daniels, 1958)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof