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Elizabeth Taylor Remembered for Sultry Roles, Turbulent Life

Actress Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, former secretary of the U.S. Navy John Warner, at the 42nd New York Film Critics Circle Awards dinner in New York, Jan. 30, 1977
Actress Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, former secretary of the U.S. Navy John Warner, at the 42nd New York Film Critics Circle Awards dinner in New York, Jan. 30, 1977

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Mike O'Sullivan

Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor has died in Los Angeles at the age of 79.  Her publicist says the actress had been hospitalized for six weeks and died of congestive heart failure early Wednesday.   The screen icon is remembered for several Oscar-winning performances and a tempestuous personal life.

Elizabeth Taylor was born to American parents in London, where her father owned an art gallery.  On the brink of World War II, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Elizabeth drew the attention of studio talent scouts.  She landed her first film role at the age of 10, appearing in the 1942 comedy There’s One Born Every Minute.

Related video report by Penelope Poulou

The child actress quickly rose to stardom in such films as Lassie Come Home, The White Cliffs of Dover, and National Velvet, a story about racing and a girl who loves horses.

National Velvet was a hit, and Taylor went on to appear opposite major stars in a string of films in the 1940s and early 1950s, when she was celebrated for her beauty.  Her performances in Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly, Last Summer earned her Academy Award nominations.

In 1955, she appeared in the Texas oil tale Giant opposite Rock Hudson and James Dean.

Taylor had a tumultuous personal life.  She was married eight times, twice to the same husband, actor Richard Burton.  

At 18, she married hotel heir Nicky Hilton, but was divorced within months.  In 1952, she married actor Michael Wilding, and divorced five years later.

Within months, she married producer Mike Todd, but he was killed in a crash of a private plane the following year.

In 1959, she married Eddie Fisher, and was blamed by the tabloid press for breaking up his marriage to popular singer Debbie Reynolds.

Taylor's on-screen romance with actor Richard Burton became passionate off-screen.  She divorced Fisher and became forever linked with Burton in the public imagination.

They starred together in the big-screen spectacle Cleopatra, released in 1963.

Taylor and Burton were married in 1964.

The actress earned Academy Awards for the 1960 film Butterfield 8, in which she played a New York call girl, and the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Starring Taylor and Burton as an unhappy married couple, the film mirrored the couple’s turbulent real-life relationship.

Burton and Taylor separated and reconciled, divorced and remarried, and divorced a final time in 1976.  She was married to John Warner, a former U.S. secretary of the Navy, who became a U.S. senator from Virginia, from 1976 to 1982.

At the height of her career, Taylor was one of Hollywood’s best-paid performers.  She appeared in more than 50 films, and even as roles dwindled in the 1980s and 1990s, she remained one of Hollywood’s most popular celebrities.  She raised millions of dollars for AIDS research and other charitable causes, and in 1993 was awarded a special Oscar for her humanitarian work.  

In 1991, Taylor married for the last time.  Her eighth husband was a construction worker, Larry Fortensky.  They had met at a drug rehabilitation center, where the actress was being treated for addiction to alcohol and painkillers.  The ceremony took place at the California ranch of Taylor’s close friend, pop star Michael Jackson.  The couple divorced five years later.

Taylor suffered bouts of serious illness, had many operations, and several times over the years, nearly died of pneumonia.  But friends and familymembers say she lived a full life.  

Elizabeth Taylor at a 2007 charity benefit in Santa Monica, California
Elizabeth Taylor at a 2007 charity benefit in Santa Monica, California

"[I have] wonderful memories," she once summed it up to an interviewer.  "They’re warm memories.  And they’re my memories."

For her fans, Elizabeth Taylor is remembered for her sultry looks and stunning violet eyes, for some memorable performances and a life off-screen as interesting as her Hollywood film roles.

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