- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Elizabeth Taylor, the violet-eyed film goddess whose sultry screen persona, stormy personal life and enduring fame and glamour made her one of the last of the classic movie stars and a template for the modern celebrity, died Wednesday at age 79.

She was surrounded by her four children when she died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized for about six weeks, said publicist Sally Morrison.

“My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love,” her son, Michael Wilding, said in a statement.

“We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts.”


“We have just lost a Hollywood giant,” said Elton John, a longtime friend of Taylor. “More importantly, we have lost an incredible human being.”

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.

One of those Oscars came for a searing performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” She played an alcoholic shrew in an emotionally sadomasochistic marriage opposite real-life husband Richard Burton.

For all the ferocity of her screen roles and the turmoil of her life, Taylor was remembered by “Virginia Woolf” director Mike Nichols for her gentler, life-affirming side.

“The shock of Elizabeth was not only her beauty. It was her generosity. Her giant laugh. Her vitality, whether tackling a complex scene on film or where we would all have dinner until dawn,” Nichols said in a statement. “She is singular and indelible on film and in our hearts.”

Taylor was the most loyal of friends and a defender of gays in Hollywood when AIDS was new to 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.” The historical epic “Cleopatra” is among Hollywood’s greatest on-screen fiascos and a landmark of off-screen monkey business, the meeting ground of Taylor and Burton, the “Brangelina” of their day.

She played enough bawdy women on film for critic Pauline Kael to deem her “Chaucerian Beverly Hills.”

That sauciness was part of her real life, too.

“She had a sense of humor that was so bawdy, even I was saying, `really? That came out of your mouth?’” Whoopi Goldberg said on ABC’s “The View,” recalling how Taylor gave her advice about her own Hollywood career. “She was just a magnificent woman. She was a great broad and a good friend.”

Story Continues →