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Elizabeth Taylor: A Look Back at a Legend

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Elizabeth Taylor - Everett Collection

During her 79 years, Elizabeth Taylor -- classic beauty,serial monogamist, Oscar winner, AIDS activist -- captivated the world with herbig-screen roles and her real-life dramas.

Born in Britain, Taylor and her American parents moved toLos Angeles at the age of seven, and became a bona fide star by age 12, withher starring role in the classic 1944 film "National Velvet," one ofa whopping 50 movies she'd appear in over the next four decades.

Though the actress was praised for her beauty and actingprowess, and landed two Academy Awards over the course of her career, as wellas an honorary Oscar in 1993, in later years she was better known for hertumultuous personal life thanks to her string of fiery romances and mostlyfailed marriages. Her first one to Conrad Hilton at age 18 seemed to set thestage for the rest. It ended after just one year, in 1951, well before divorcewas casually accepted. Just one year later, Taylor wed English actor Mike Wilding, withwhom she would have two sons.

Taylorwould have eight marriages over her lifetime, but none as controversial as herfourth to singer Eddie Fisher in 1959. Her third husband, producer Mike Todd-- who was 25 years her senior -- had died in a plane crash just a year prior. Notonly had Fisher and Todd been close friends, but Fisher was married to fellowactress -- and Elizabeth's own pal -- Debbie Reynolds, and the couple had twoyoung children together (one of which was "Star Wars" actress CarrieFisher) at the time he started up his affair with Taylor.

Said Taylor of the romance: "[Eddie] and Mike had been good friends and it seemed natural we should try to comfort each other for our loss ... In hindsight, I know I wasn't thinking straight. At the time I thought he needed me and I needed him. The press made much of Eddie's leaving his wife, Debbie Reynolds, but Eddie and Debbie's marriage was in trouble long before I hit the scene."

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Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher. - Courtesy Everett Collection

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Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. - Mirrorpix/Courtesy Everett Collection

Taylor and Fisher's marriage set off a media firestorm... and so did their divorce. Four years later, she met the man she'deventually call her "second great love" (with Todd being the first),legendary actor Richard Burton. The two met on the set of "Cleopatra"in 1963 and, by the next year, both had divorced their respective spouses tomarry each other. Once again, the public was infatuated, especially after thetwo divorced a decade later, married each other again in 1975, and thendivorced yet again after just a year. Over the course of their marriages, Burton and Taylor sharedthe screen 11 times, including the 1966 film "Who's Afraid of VirginiaWoolf," for which Taylorwon her second Oscar. In a recent interview with Us Weekly, Taylor revealed that"Woolf" is the film she was most proud of.

As she stepped back from acting in the 1980s, Taylor jumped into otherendeavors. It was the AIDS-related death of good friend and one-time co-star,actor Rock Hudson, that prompted Taylor to get involved in something that wouldbecome hugely important to her for the rest of her life, HIV/AIDS charity work.Long before it became the politically correct thing to do, Taylor became involved with the AIDS ProjectLos Angeles in 1984. She later joined the board of directors of the NationalAIDS Research Foundation in Los Angeles, and the two charities eventually merged toform the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), a group that hasinvested more than $300 million in AIDS research globally since 1985. "Iwill not be silenced and I will not give up and I will not be ignored," Taylor said of her AIDSadvocacy.

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Dame Elizabeth Taylor leaves Buckingham Palace after receiving the honour of Dame Commander of the Order of the …

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The screen legend speaks out for her favorite cause at amfAR's Cinema Against AIDS benefit during the 56th International …

Tayloralso founded her own AIDS Foundation to help other organizations provide directcare to those suffering from the disease, and remained one of amfAR's mostpublic faces, even speaking on World AIDS Day at the United Nations. It was,however, a simple handshake that may have made the biggest difference of all.

In 1989, Taylor wasphotographed shaking hands with an HIV/AIDS patient in a Bangkok hospital. The photograph madeheadlines throughout Southeast Asia. Accordingto amfAR, "At least in that region, [that photo] probably did more thanany other single event to quell fears about touching people with AIDS."

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Dame Elizabeth Taylor with director David Lynch, Sharon Stone, and Sir Elton John at amfAR's Cinema Against AIDS …

Though Taylorultimately died of congestive heart failure, she experienced brushes with deathmultiple times throughout her life -- she nearly lost an eye and a leg, and hadtwo serious bouts of pneumonia which required a tracheotomy and a ventilator.She was plagued with health problems her entire life and suffered from backpain dating back to when she fell of a horse during the production of"National Velvet." Her 20 surgeries over the years included two hipreplacements and a hysterectomy.

The star also battled alcoholism, which landed her at theBetty Ford Clinic twice during the 1980s. During her second stint there she metthe man who would become her last husband, construction worker Larry Fortensky(quite a switch from the husband who preceded him, U.S. Senator John Warner).The couple married in 1991, when Taylorwas 59, at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Taylor and Fortensky, who was 20years Taylor'sjunior, split five years later.

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Taylor with her great friend Michael Jackson at his 30th Anniversary Celebration at Madison Square Garden in NYC …

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The multi-talented star debuts just one of her many fragrances from her Jewel Perfume Collection at the Metropolitan …

Though the public spotlight might not have shone quite asbrightly on Taylorduring her later years -- her weight gain, diet books, and marriage toFortensky became late-night fodder -- she continued to lead an active andvaried life. She launched a series of super successful perfumes, continued herAIDS work, was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth, and became close friends withBel-Air neighbor Michael Jackson, saying the two first forged a connection overhaving child stardom in common. Taylorwas devastated after his death. "My heart... my mind... are broken. Iloved Michael with all my soul and I can't imagine life without him. We had somuch in common we had such loving fun together," she said in a statement.

The classic star also had no trouble moving right alongwith the times. In 1994 she played Fred Flintstone's mother-in-law in thebig-screen version of "The Flintstones," later made a few sitcomappearances, and, in 2001, joined Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, and one-timenemesis Debbie Reynolds in the tongue-in-cheek TV movie "These Old Broads,"which was co-written by Reynolds' daughter Carrie Fisher.

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Taylor poses for a cast shot with her "These Old Broads" co-stars, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine, and Joan …

Last year the self-confessed "Law & Order"fanatic even held a vote via Twitter to name her latest perfume. Her fans namedit Violet Eyes, after the vivid-hued eyes that helped make Taylor famous in the first place.

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