Mar 23, 2011

 
 
 

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 old-fashioned movie stars and a template for the modern celebrity, died Wednesday at age 79.

She died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized for about six weeks, said publicist Sally Morrison.

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." 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 Richard Burton, the "Brangelina" of their day.

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

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.

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