Elizabeth Taylor suffered a fractured back--not just bruises--in a fall at her Beverly Hills home hours before the much-married movie star's 66th birthday party, doctors decided Tuesday.

With her condition downgraded from bruise to fracture, the two-time Oscar winner likely will remain at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center through the week. No surgery will be required. She'll be kept company during her bedridden stay by her beloved Maltese, Sugar, officials say.

Initial reports indicated the actress was knocked cold by the fall last Friday. But a spokeswoman denied the account, saying that Taylor suffered "some bruising" to her hip and back in the fall.

The accident occurred when the celebrity knelt to retrieve an item from her bedroom nightstand, straightened up, lost her balance and fell.

The mishap came almost a year to the day that she underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. That health scare was followed by yet another one a week later--a mild seizure.

As former publicist John Springer tells today's New York Post: "She really isn't in very good shape...But Elizabeth can be virtually at death's door, and somehow she starts over."

Fragility has been Taylor's M.O. since she suffered a back injury in a fall from a horse as a youth while making the 1944 classic, National Velvet.

Other noted sick days, include:

Emergency tracheotomy, 1961; Betty Ford Clinic stay for alcoholism, 1983; Betty Ford Clinic stay for painkiller addiction, 1988; Severe respiratory problems, 1990; Hip-replacement surgery, 1995; Irregular heartbeat, 1996. (UPDATED at 2:10 p.m. on 3/3/98)

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