Elizabeth Taylor, Movie Legend, Dies at 79

Oscar-winning actress and AIDS activist had been hospitalized for congestive heart failure; classic films included Giant and Cleopatra

By Joal Ryan Mar 23, 2011 2:15 PMTags
Elizabeth TaylorHulton Archive/Getty Images

Elizabeth Taylor, the Oscar-winning movie goddess and pioneering AIDS activist whose off-screen marriages, divorces and death-defying exploits rivaled her films for drama died today, her family said in a statement.

She was 79, and had been hospitalized in recent weeks for congestive heart failure.

"Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts," son Michael Wilding said.

Taylor starred in 50-plus movies. She made the leap from child star to world's biggest star. She won two Oscars, for Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Other signature films included National Velvet, Father of the Bride, Giant, and Cleopatra, on the set of which she began a notorious love affair with costar Richard Burton, whom she would marry, divorce, remarry and divorce again.   

In all, Taylor celebrated eight marriages and endured seven divorces.

"I never planned to acquire a lot of jewels or a lot of husbands," she said in a recent interview with Kim Kardashian for Harper's Bazaar. "For me, life happened, just as it does for anyone else."

Of all her off-screen accomplishments, most notably she helped raised more than $200 million for AIDS research. In the family statement, Wilding praised his mother's "brave and relentless fight" for the cause.

In 2009, Taylor announced, via her Twitter page—yes, she rolled with the times—that she was to undergo heart surgery to repair a valve. Her most recent hospital stint, at L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai, where she died, began in February.

"Everything was handed to me. Looks, fame, wealth, honors, love," she said in 1999. "But I've paid for that luck with disasters, the deaths of so many good friends, terrible illnesses, destructive addictions, broken marriages."

"All things considered, I'm damned lucky to be alive."

(Originally published March 23, 2011, at 6:16 a.m. PT)