Elizabeth Taylor dies at 79

Elizabeth Taylor, one of Hollywood's greatest stars, has died at 79.

Legendary star known as AIDS activist, one of world's most beautiful women

Early Elizabeth Taylor

11 years ago
The screen legend's early life in front of the camera 2:37

Editor's note: This story was published in 2011.

Elizabeth Taylor, one of Hollywood's greatest stars, has died at age 79.

Taylor died Wednesday in hospital in Los Angeles, where she had been treated for congestive heart failure, her publicist Sally Morrison said.

"All her children were with her," Morrison said.

Tributes immediately began emerging on Twitter for the actress, including this tweet from British actor Michael Caine: "So sad to hear about my beautiful friend Elizabeth Taylor. She was a great human being."

In the past decade, Taylor had suffered a broken back — the legacy of a fall from a horse while shooting National Velvet as a child — skin cancer and several serious bouts of pneumonia. She also had had both hips replaced and a benign brain tumour removed. She had been in hospital for the past two months with heart problems.

Taylor, long considered one of the world's great screen beauties, won Oscars for her roles in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,in 1966, and Butterfield 8, in 1960

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She was almost as famous for her legendary love life. She was married eight times to seven husbands, among them Richard Burton whom she married twice.

Taylor was born in London in 1932 to an American couple living in the U.K. After the start of the Second World War, her parents returned to the U.S. and settled in California.

From child star to Hollywood royalty

Taylor started acting in Hollywood at the age of nine. Though originally with Universal, she was dropped by that studio and then signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

After her debut in 1942's There's One Born Every Minute, the raven-haired, blue-eyed actress soon made a name for herself, starring in films such as 1943's Lassie Come Home and 1944's National Velvet.

National Velvet was a favourite with both the public and the critics.

Elizabeth Taylor with Montgomery Clift on the set of 1957's Raintree County. (Associated Press)
Director Clarence Brown "has also drawn some excellent performances from his cast, especially from little Elizabeth Taylor, who plays the role of the horse-loving girl," the New York Times said in its review. "Her face is alive with youthful spirit, her voice has the softness of sweet song and her whole manner in this picture is one of refreshing grace."

Taylor matured into an acclaimed actress, delivering Academy Award-nominated performances in Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer,  before winning her two Oscars for best leading actress.

Other film credits included Father of the Bride, A Place in the Sun, Giant and Cleopatra — for which she was the first actress ever to score a million-dollar paycheque.

Taylor's co-stars included some of Hollywood's greatest performers, among them Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Katharine Hepburn and Paul Newman.

With a string of hit films to her name, Taylor became known as one of the world's most beautiful women. She also developed a reputation for short-lived Hollywood marriages.

In 1950, at the age of 18, she married hotel heir Conrad Hilton Jr. They divorced less than a year later. 

She then married and divorced British actor Michael Wilding. Her third marriage was to U.S. film producer Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash. Fourth time around, she wed performer Eddie Fisher, after a scandalous affair in which he ditched his wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, for Taylor.

Taylor quickly became known as a temptress and femme fatale, cheating on Fisher with actor Richard Burton — who also was married at the time — while they were filming Cleopatra.

She would eventually marry and divorce Burton twice before marrying Senator John Warner and then construction worker Larry Fortensky, whom she met while attending the Betty Ford Clinic for drug and alcohol abuse. They divorced in 1996.

Anti-AIDS crusader

In the 1970s and 1980s, Taylor moved into TV and stage roles, appearing on the miniseries North and South and the soaps General Hospital and All My Children, as well as in the plays The Little Foxes and Private Lives. She popped up in the 1994 film The Flintstones and did voice-over cameos on TV's The Simpsons.

She continued to make films into the 21st century and continued to collect accolades.

"I don't suppose anyone in his right mind would call X, Y & Zee a good movie," reviewer Pauline Kael said of a 1972 performance. "(But) this one has a script that enabled Elizabeth Taylor to come out. The aging beauty has discovered in herself a gutsy, unrestrained spirit that knocks two very fine performers right off the screen."

Elizabeth Taylor in 2007. (Associated Press)
After the death of her good friend Rock Hudson in 1985, Taylor began devoting much of her time to AIDS-related fundraising and charities, helping to found the American Foundation for AIDS Research and creating her own charity, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

She raised millions of dollars for the cause, supporting HIV/AIDS prevention, education, research and treatment, and was a widely respected figure in the gay community for speaking so publicly about the disease.

In tribute to her philanthropic work, Taylor was recognized with many honours, including the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, presented by the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian honour in the U.S.

Taylor was also named a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1999.