Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor dies at 79

March 23, 2011 12:00 am

, LOS ANGELES, Mar 23 – Legendary Hollywood actress and violet-eyed beauty Elizabeth Taylor, who captured hearts in "National Velvet" to launch a film career that spanned five decades, died Wednesday aged 79.

Taylor had been in Los Angeles\’ Cedars-Sinai hospital for six weeks with congestive heart failure, a condition with which she had struggled for some years and had recently suffered complications, a family statement said.

"She was surrounded by her children: Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd, and Maria Burton," it said, noting that Taylor, who married eight times, was survived by 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

"My Mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humour, and love," Michael Wilding said.

"Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world."

Taylor won two Academy Awards for best actress, including in the 1966 classic "Who\’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" one of many films she played opposite Richard Burton.

Burton was one of the great loves of Taylor\’s life – she married and divorced him twice – but her stormy relationships off-screen often overshadowed her glittering film career.

In later years as her health failed she retired from the public gaze, although she notably attended the 2009 funeral of her long-time friend Michael Jackson, while she remained active in raising funds to battle AIDS/HIV.

Born in London February 27, 1932, she was evacuated to California with her American parents in 1939, where she was soon discovered at her father\’s art gallery by the fiancée of the chairman of Universal Studios.

She debuted in 1942 in "There\’s One Born Every Minute," and by 1944 had become a child star with "National Velvet," the story of a girl who rides her horse to victory at the Grand National disguised as a boy.

She married for the first time in 1950, aged 18, to playboy hotel chain heir Nicky Hilton. The marriage lasted 203 days, collapsing amid verbal and physical abuse after a lavish Hollywood wedding and a three-month European honeymoon.

Taylor moved on, and by 1952 she had tied the knot with British matinee idol Michael Wilding, 19 years her senior. They had two children, Michael Jr. and Christopher.

Though Taylor said Wilding gave her stability, it wasn\’t enough. She filed for divorce in 1956, and within days of the separation producer Michael Todd, 49, proposed.

Tough and domineering, he was Taylor\’s first great love. They had a daughter, Elizabeth Frances, in August 1957, but seven months later tragedy struck: Todd was killed in a plane crash in New Mexico.

Devastated, Taylor was accompanied at Todd\’s funeral by his best friend, singer Eddie Fisher — with whom she launched an affair, and married in 1959.

She won her first Oscar for best actress in 1960 for her portrayal of a high-class call girl in "Butterfield 8." Taylor is said to have hated the movie.

Then came "Cleopatra" (1962) – "surely the most bizarre piece of entertainment ever perpetrated," on the set of which she met Burton.

They married in March 1964 in Montreal. By the time they were filming "Who\’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf," the harrowing portrayal of a marriage torn by booze, bitterness and failure mirrored their own.

They divorced in June, 1974 and remarried in October of the following year in Botswana, only to divorce again in August, 1976.

The marriage left Taylor an alcoholic, and her career in decline. A seventh marriage to Virginia senator John Warner, from 1976 to 1982, failed to cure the blues.

In and out of California\’s Betty Ford Clinic in the 1980s, she overcame her alcoholism and a dependence on painkillers and emerged as a champion in the cause of AIDS victims.

In 1991, she stunned the world by marrying husband No. 8: Larry Fortensky, a 40-year-old construction worker she met in rehab. They parted amicably three years later.

Her son Michael said Wednesday: "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."

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