Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor DBE (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011) was a British-American actress, businesswoman, and humanitarian. She began her career as a child actress in the early 1940s, and was one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema in the 1950s. She continued her career successfully into the 1960s, and remained a well-known public figure for the rest of her life. In 1999, the American Film Institute named her the seventh-greatest female screen legend.
Born in London to wealthy, socially prominent American parents, Taylor moved with her family to Los Angeles in 1939, and she was soon given a film contract by Universal Pictures. She made her screen debut in a minor role in There’s One Born Every Minute (1942), but Universal terminated her contract after a year. Taylor was then signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and had her breakthrough role in National Velvet (1944), becoming one of the studio’s most popular teenaged stars. She made the transition to adult roles in the early 1950s, when she starred in the comedy Father of the Bride (1950) and received critical acclaim for her performance in the drama A Place in the Sun (1951).
Despite being one of MGM’s most bankable stars, Taylor wished to end her career in the early 1950s. She resented the studio’s control and disliked many of the films to which she was assigned. She began receiving roles she enjoyed more in the mid-1950s, beginning with the epic drama Giant (1956), and starred in several critically and commercially successful films in the following years. These included two film adaptations of plays by Tennessee Williams: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959); Taylor won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for the latter. Although she disliked her role as a call girl in BUtterfield 8 (1960), her last film for MGM, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
Taylor was then paid a record-breaking $1 million to play the title role in the historical epic Cleopatra (1963), the most expensive film made up to that point. During the filming, Taylor and co-star Richard Burton began an extramarital affair, which caused a scandal. Despite public disapproval, she and Burton continued their relationship and were married in 1964. Dubbed “Liz and Dick” by the media, they starred in 11 films together, including The V.I.P.s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Taylor received the best reviews of her career for Woolf, winning her second Academy Award and several other awards for her performance. She and Burton divorced in 1974, but reconciled soon after, and remarried in 1975. The second marriage ended in divorce in 1976.
Taylor’s acting career began to decline in the late 1960s, although she continued starring in films until the mid-1970s, after which she focused on supporting the career of her sixth husband, Senator John Warner. In the 1980s, she acted in her first substantial stage roles and in several television films and series, and became the first celebrity to launch a perfume brand. Taylor was also one of the first celebrities to take part in HIV/AIDS activism. She co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985, and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991. From the early 1990s until her death, she dedicated her time to philanthropy, for which she received several accolades, including the Presidential Citizens Medal.
Throughout her career, Taylor’s personal life was the subject of constant media attention. She was married eight times to seven men, endured several serious illnesses, and led a jet set lifestyle, including assembling one of the most expensive private collections of jewelry in the world. After many years of ill health, Taylor died from congestive heart failure in 2011, at the age of 79.