Collins called Taylor one of the last of the true Hollywood icons. “There will never be another star who will come close to her luminosity and generosity, particularly in her fight against AIDS,” she said.
AIDS activism had become Taylor’s real work long before she gave up acting. Her passion in raising money and AIDS awareness brought her an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1993.
“Acting is, to me now, artificial,” Taylor told The Associated Press at the 2005 dedication of a UCLA AIDS research center. “Seeing people suffer is real. It couldn’t be more real. Some people don’t like to look at it in the face because it’s painful.
“But if nobody does, then nothing gets done,” she said.
One of the groups that benefited, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, praised Taylor for being “among the first to speak out on behalf of people living with HIV when others reacted with fear and often outright hostility.”
Taylor’s work “improved and extended millions of lives and will enrich countless more for generations to come,” the group said.
Taylor received the Legion of Honor, France’s most prestigious award, in 1987 for AIDS efforts. In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II made Taylor a dame _ the female equivalent of a knight _ for her services to charity and the entertainment industry.
Taylor herself, however, suffered through the decades.
She fell from a horse while shooting 1944’s “National Velvet,” causing a back injury that plagued her for the rest of her life. Her third husband, producer Michael Todd, died in a plane crash after only a year of marriage.
Taylor had life-threatening bouts with pneumonia, a brain tumor and congestive heart failure in her 60s and 70s, and from drug and alcohol abuse, including a 35-year addiction to sleeping pills and painkillers, which prompted her to check in to the Betty Ford Center.
She had at least 20 major operations, including replacements of both hip joints and surgery to remove the benign brain tumor.
Taylor also dealt with obesity, packing on as much as 60 pounds and writing, “It’s a wonder I didn’t explode” in her 1988 book “Elizabeth Takes Off,” about how she gained the weight and then shed it.
“Eating became one of the most pleasant activities I could find to fill the lonely hours and I ate and drank with abandon,” she said.
After a lifetime of ailments and self-abuse, Taylor said in a 2004 interview with W magazine that “my body’s a real mess. … Just completely convex and concave.”
Her trials made her a butt of jokes, but even when people made fun, she preserved a hint of the divine aura of her youth.