DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Elizabeth Taylor’s publicist Sally Morrison tells CBS Radio News Elizabeth Taylor died early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles. She was 79-years-old.
Morrison said Taylor died from congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized for about six weeks.
Taylor was the most blessed and cursed of actresses, the toughest and the most vulnerable. She had extraordinary grace, wealth and voluptuous beauty, and won three Academy Awards, including a special one for her humanitarian work.
She was the most loyal of friends and a defender of gays in Hollywood when AIDS was still a stigma in the industry and beyond. But she was afflicted by ill-health, failed romances (eight marriages, seven husbands) and personal tragedy.
“I think I’m becoming fatalistic,” she said in 1989. “Too much has happened in my life for me not to be fatalistic.”
Her more than 50 movies included unforgettable portraits of innocence and of decadence, from the children’s classic “National Velvet” and the sentimental family comedy “Father of the Bride” to Oscar-winning transgressions in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Butterfield 8.”
But her defining role, one that lasted long past her moviemaking days, was “Elizabeth Taylor,” ever marrying and divorcing, in and out of hospitals, gaining and losing weight, standing by Michael Jackson, Rock Hudson and other troubled friends, acquiring a jewelry collection that seemed to rival Tiffany’s.
Speaking live on WWJ, the Detroit Film Theatre Eliot Wilhelm said Liz Taylor was a lot more than a pretty face.
“She was a fantastic actress, and I think she was often underrated because she was so amazinly beautiful. I mean, at the age of twelve, when she was in National Velvet, one of the world’s great film critics, James Agee was gushing over the film, and over Elizabeth Taylor,” Wilhelm said.
She was a child star who grew up and aged before an adoring, appalled and fascinated public. She arrived in Hollywood when the studio system tightly controlled an actor’s life and image, had more marriages than any publicist could explain away and lasted long enough to no longer require explanation.
“I have the emotions of a child in the body of a woman,” she once said. “I was rushed into womanhood for the movies. It caused me long moments of unhappiness and doubt.”
She was the industry’s great survivor, and among the first to reach that special category of celebrity – famous for being famous, for whom her work was inseparable from the gossip around it.
The London-born actress was a star at age 12, a bride and a divorcee at 18, a superstar at 19 and a widow at 26.
She underwent at least 20 major operations and she nearly died from a bout with pneumonia in 1990. In 1994 and 1995, she had both hip joints replaced, and in February 1997, she underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. In 1983, she acknowledged a 35-year addiction to sleeping pills and pain killers.
Her advocacy for AIDS research and for other causes earned her a special Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1993. As she accepted it, to a long ovation, she declared, “I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being – to prove that we are a human race, to prove that our love outweighs our need to hate, that our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame.”
Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, she and Marilyn Monroe were Hollywood’s great sex symbols, both striving for appreciation beyond their physical beauty, both caught up in personal dramas filmmakers could only wish they had imagined.
Michigan native Madonna gave a speech to honor the legendary actress during a 65th birthday celebration for Taylor in 1997. “When I was a little girl, I wanted to be as beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor. I wanted a 16 inch waistline… and I wanted Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman, James Dean and Rock Hudson to put their arms around it,” Madonna said.
Taylor was an iconic star, but her screen roles became increasingly rare in the 1980s and beyond. She appeared in several television movies, including “Poker Alice” and “Sweet Bird of Youth,” and entered the Stone Age as Pearl Slaghoople in the movie version of “The Flintstones.” She also had a brief role on the popular soap opera “General Hospital.”
In 1993, she won a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute; in 1999, an institute survey of screen legends ranked her No. 7 among actresses.
In May 2000, Queen Elizabeth II made Taylor a dame – the female equivalent of a knight – for her services to the entertainment industry and to charity.
“I like the connection with fans and people who have been supportive of me,” Taylor told Kim Kardashian in a 2011 interview for Harper’s Bazaar. “And I love the idea of real feedback and a two-way street, which is very, very modern. But sometimes I think we know too much about our idols and that spoils the dream.”
Taylor is survived by her daughters Maria Burton-Carson and Liza Todd-Tivey, sons Christopher and Michael Wilding, and several grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.