I had seen Elizabeth Taylor several times since our first meeting in 1992, and she was always as she was that first day: breathtakingly captivating.
I worked for Premiere magazine at the time, and I was doing a piece on her absurdly successful second career as a businesswoman hawking perfume. Her first, Elizabeth Taylor's Passion, was such hideous stuff I would use it to freshen up the litter box.
But then, she launched White Diamonds, which was a genius scent that catapulted Elizabeth (never Liz) into mega-businesswoman stardom. Taylor made zillions off the stuff. And so with more faxes, phone calls, letters and rearranged appointments than I would imagine it would take to interview the president of the Unites States of America, I finally drove through the gates of Taylor's Bel-Air estate:
She was incredibly late. I sat in that living room just down from Nancy Regan's pad for a couple of hours.
But I was grateful for the chance to calm down. I had always admired Taylor greatly for being an outspoken Hollywood broad, not to mention a talented film actress and exceptional beauty. As a rule, I don't get gushy or nervous with celebs, but I was anxious.
I also got a chance to really study her décor. The pad was loaded with priceless paintings (her father was an art dealer) grouped very warmly around over the sofa. Nothing grand about it. Those Van Goghs were there for the enjoyment, right up front, nothing was austere, hands-off or coldly at a distance. Brass deer were lying at the fireplace. Dogs were running in and out of the patio doors, which opened onto the small green lawn. It was all kind of kitschy, warm and cool.
This was not a stuffy star's overly decorated home, made up for a magazine spread: this was Taylor's family ranch-style pad, meant to be enjoyed.
I smelled her before I saw her.
Suddenly, Taylor bolted in wearing high-heel boots and a purple blouse, nothing fussy. She was luminous and looked to be wearing what appeared to be little-boy's blue jeans, she was so tiny—the last period in her life she was truly a curvy little thing. Masses of amethysts were around her neck and wrists. No diamonds, I was hugely disappointed.
But that changed as soon as Elizabeth opened her mouth:
She talked about how pissed she was that she still had to work so hard at bringing people around to help with AIDS. Resting under one of her masterpieces, Taylor mentioned in particular a businessman she met at a recent fundraiser. The man had asked her if it was true you could only get AIDS through the rectum.
Taylor's heavily made-up violet eyes squinted as she repeated what she told the man: "No, dear, through the vaginal juices, too."
That's what Elizabeth did best: shock and talk sense at the same time.
She told me how much she loved taking a break from Hollywood, which she found "childish." The business world better suited her, she said, as it was more "grown up."
Taylor also intimated her life with Sen. John Warner (husband No. 7) was boring as crap, and, she said that Richard Burton was the love of her life. This is no secret.
She said she loved playing Cleopatra because she was such a "smart" woman, and she got a particular kick out of the fact Egypt's ruler was such an "incredibly homely woman," and how ironic it all was.
But Taylor was hardly conceited. She told me she hated her short legs, envied tall, svelte women like no one else's business. She also said "no woman ever gets tired of being told she's beautiful." She smiled and invited me to a taping of a talk show she was doing that night. I was so enchanted I'd have done anything she asked at that point.
Even though Elizabeth became frail and sometimes hard to understand, you couldn't stop looking at her. The last time I saw her was at the Macy's Passport AIDS/HIV fundraiser in 2009. She could barely read the prompter in front of her onstage and some nasty people near me were taking pictures and snickering.
I thought it was particularly mean treatment of the movie legend—who was the first to rally against AIDS in Hollywood when her good friend Rock Hudson succumbed to the disease. That salty legend took a stand when nobody else had to the guts to do anything. She deserved much more. Especially for still continuing her AIDS work, even when her health really wasn't up to it.
And for that, I say Elizabeth was as beautiful when she died as she was—-always.