Elizabeth Taylor was one of the preeminent film actresses of all time: the winner of two Academy Awards for Best Actress, a five-time Oscar nominee, as well as the recipient of the French Legion of Honor, the Presidential Citizens Medal and the 1993 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.
Married eight times, including twice to Welsh actor and frequent co-star Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor was the first actress to be paid $1 million for a movie role, assembled one of the world’s most valuable private collections of jewelry, and amassed a fortune in the fragrance business.
Some of her best-known films include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Butterfield 8, Cleopatra, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, National Velvet, A Place in the Sun and Suddenly Last Summer (both with friend Montgomery Clift), and Giant, in which she formed a lasting friendship with co-star Ruck Hudson. Both Clift and Hudson were gay but had never publicly acknowledged their homosexuality.
In 1985, Elizabeth leveraged her super-stardom to raise money for and garner attention to the cause of AIDS research, education and advocacy. 1985 was the year in which Rock Hudson died of AIDS and her former daughter-in-law, Aileen Getty, was diagnosed with HIV. In that same year, Elizabeth served as Chair of AIDS Project Los Angeles’ Commitment to Life fundraiser, which raised over $1 million. But the fundraising didn’t come easy and lots of her friends refused to lend support.
Recalling that effort, she said: “I realized … that this town — of all towns — was basically homophobic, even though without homosexuals there would be no Hollywood, no show business! Yet the industry was turning its back on what it considered a gay disease.”
In the same year, she and Hudson’s doctor, Michael Gottlieb, formed the National AIDS Research Foundation with $250,000 in initial funding from Rock Hudson’s estate. Later that year, it merged with Dr. Mathilde Krim’s AIDS organization to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research, known as amfAR. She served as its Founding National Chairman and leading spokesperson, bringing worldwide attention to the fight against AIDS, expanding its reach from American to international efforts, and raising huge sums of money for the cause.
Appearing in the American capital to advocate for expanded federal funding for research about HIV and AIDS, the famously outspoken Elizabeth pulled no punches: “I’m not here in Washington to make people like me. I’m here to speak about a national scandal, a scandal of neglect, indifference and abandonment.”
In 1991, the same year her personal secretary took his own life after receiving an AIDS diagnosis, she created The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation to fund direct AIDS services.
I’m Sharon Stone. When Elizabeth was unable to attend an event in 1995 for amfAR, little did I know that it would be the start of a decades-long commitment to follow in her footsteps and carry on the fight for education, treatments and a cure to HIV and AIDS.
She famously quipped, “It’s bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.”
My friend Elizabeth died in 2011. Former President Bill Clinton observed: “Elizabeth’s legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired.”