It was those eyes. Those ridiculous, unfeasible violet eyes. That’s what made me, and millions of other movie-goers, sit up and take notice of Elizabeth Taylor over a film career that lasted more than six decades. A much, much better actress than her voluptuous, glamorous sexiness might, at first glance, suggest, she had an incredible screen presence, a huge acting talent, and the knack of making even the daftest films oddly watchable (Cleopatra, anyone?). Nominated for the ‘Best Actress’ Oscar five times, she won it twice – alongside many other acting awards – and performed with countless members of the Hollywood aristocracy over her long and eventful career.
There is no doubt her life was an intense one by most people’s standards and that she was one tough cookie – anyone who can survive child stardom in the Hollywood studio system of the 1940s, a grand total of eight marriages (two of which were to that notorious Welsh actor and professional hellraiser Richard Burton), well-publicised drug and alcohol addictions, and some very serious ill health would have to be, quite frankly. It was Burton who, half awestruck and half exasperated, described her as “too bloody much”; their tempestuous and profoundly passionate relationship (which began on the set of Cleopatra – see photo, above) made headlines around the world.
As an ex-child star, she developed close friendships with others who had achieved “too much” celebrity too soon, including Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson (she was, apparently, even godmother to two of Jacko’s children). She was also a close friend of the legendary actor Rock Hudson, whose death as a result of an AIDS-related illness in 1985 inspired her to become an outspoken activist on behalf of those with the disease at a time when there was little public understanding of it, a step which made her even more of a gay icon than she already was.
Sadly, after such a dramatic and unapologetic life, Elizabeth Taylor’s death at the age of 79 was announced earlier today. Her passing has robbed the film world of one of the last remaining true Hollywood divas of a distinct type that really doesn’t exist any more. Her long and fascinating career began in the glamorous golden age of the movies and managed to survive into the high-tech modern era of Hollywood; unlike many of her contemporaries she was a star until the last. She lived her remarkable life entirely on her terms – and there are very few people in any walk of life who can say they have achieved that.