The Iconic Life and Career of a Hollywood Legend
Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most iconic actresses of the 20th century. Her striking beauty, passionate performances, and tumultuous personal life made her a true star. Over a career spanning more than 60 years, she conquered Hollywood and captivated audiences around the world.
Early Life & Rise to Fame
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born on February 27, 1932, in Hampstead, London, England to American parents - Francis Taylor, an art dealer, and Sara Sothern, a former stage actress. In 1939, her family moved to Los Angeles to escape the looming war in Europe.
Taylor's striking beauty was evident from a very young age. She was discovered by a film executive at the age of 9 when her mother took her to visit the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio. She soon landed her first major role in the Universal film There's One Born Every Minute (1942). Over the next few years, she appeared in several high-profile films for MGM including Lassie Come Home (1943), National Velvet (1944) and Life with Father (1947).
Taylor became one of MGM's biggest stars while still a teenager, appearing in hit films such as Little Women (1949), Father of the Bride (1950), and A Place in the Sun. (1951) By this point, she was one of the most bankable actresses in Hollywood and signed a record-breaking contract with MGM.
Superstardom & Relationships
In 1957, Taylor met her third husband, producer Mike Todd while still married to British actor Michael Wilding. She received widespread criticism for leaving Wilding and marrying the recently divorced Todd so soon after. Nevertheless, she continued her hot streak at the box office with the hugely successful films Raintree County (1957) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) for which she received her first Academy Award nominations.
Tragedy struck in 1958 when Todd was killed in a plane crash. A grieving Taylor soldiered on and made one of her most famous films, the lavish epic Cleopatra (1963). The film was plagued by production issues, went hugely over budget, and almost bankrupted the studio 20th Century Fox. But it was a massive box office hit, due in large part to the captivating on-screen charisma and chemistry between Taylor and her co-star, future husband Richard Burton.
The relationship between Taylor and Burton was extremely intense. They fell madly in love during the filming of Cleopatra despite both being married to other people at the time. Their romance sparked outrage, given how publically they conducted their affair during production. But the scandal only added to their allure as a couple, and they became one of the most celebrity pairs of the 20th century often nicknamed 'Liz and Dick'.
Burton and Taylor went on to star in a series of hit films together including The V.I.P.s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) - for which Taylor won her second Best Actress Oscar - and The Taming of the Shrew (1967). They married in 1964 and divorced in 1974, only to re-marry and re-divorce again in 1975-76. Their torrid relationship became the subject of endless fascination, gossip and public scrutiny throughout the 60s and 70s.
Taylor continued to star in films without Burton such as The Comedians (1967), Secret Ceremony (1968) directed by Joseph Losey, the revisionist Western Ash Wednesday (1973), and the television film Divorce His, Divorce Hers (1973). But by the mid-70s, her rocky personal life, health issues and tabloid image of an ageing glamour girl started to eclipse her acting work.
Later Career & Philanthropy
In the late 1970s and 80s, Taylor's film roles became increasingly sporadic. She starred in critically panned adaptations of Harold Robbins novels, such as The Blue Bird (1976), Malice in Wonderland (1985) and the TV miniseries North and South (1985-86). Her final theatrically released film was the universally panned Franco Zeffirelli production The Young Toscanini (1988). She recorded a series of best-selling audiobooks and continued to make forays into television with series such as General Hospital (1981-83), and Hotel (1983-87), even providing the voice of Maggie Simpson in a 1991 episode of The Simpsons.
In later life, Taylor became increasingly known for her philanthropic work and advocacy. She was a founding international chair of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) in 1985, established to raise funds for research to discover a cure for AIDS. She co-founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991 to assist people living with HIV. Her increasingly rare public appearances were usually focused on her tireless efforts to raise awareness and funds for the cause.
Elizabeth Taylor passed away on March 23, 2011, at the age of 79 from congestive heart failure. She had been in poor health for many years and remained a recluse during her final days spent at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her illustrious film career spanned over six decades and 50 films. By the time of her death, she had been nominated for five Academy Awards and won two Best Actress Oscars for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Butterfield 8 (1960). She won numerous other accolades and honours.
A true icon of classic Hollywood cinema, Taylor's life on and off screen captured the public imagination like few others. Her seven marriages, scandalous romances, health battles and astounding generosity as a philanthropist were the stuff of tabloid legends. But it was her dazzling acting talent, intoxicating screen presence, and unapologetic fierceness that cemented her status as one of the greatest actresses of all time.