Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Death of a Movie Star

The younger generation may know her only as a close friend of Michael Jackson, but Elizabeth Taylor was always so much more than that.

The American Film Institute ranked Taylor #7 on its list of the top 25 female movie stars of all time — behind only Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe.

She was never, as she herself said, the most talented actress, but she may have been the greatest movie star of her time.

With a list of film credits that included two Oscars for Best Actress ("Butterfield 8" in 1961 and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" — which is probably my favorite of her films — in 1967) as well as participation in and recognition for many other movies — not to mention a personal life that was always in the spotlight, whether it was because of her numerous and often turbulent marriages, the tragedies she had to endure or the health issues that ultimately ended her life — it would be hard to argue the point.

For more than half a century, Taylor thrived in a media glare that proved to be too much for many of her contemporaries. She survived the same excesses that killed her two–time husband, Richard Burton, nearly 30 years ago. She turned the tragedy of her friend Rock Hudson's death from AIDS into a fundraising triumph in the fight against the disease.

I have to believe that, with Taylor's death at the age of 79, there must be a portion of the paparazzi population that now must find some other celebrity about whom to photograph and write.

In recent years, the Liz Taylor beat couldn't have been too lucrative. She spent her last years living a reclusive sort of life, reportedly spending much of her time in a wheelchair — a condition that was decidedly at odds with the youthful, vigorous image so many people remembered in "National Velvet" and "Father of the Bride."

I'm sure that isn't the kind of image she ever wanted to leave with the public. Better that they should remember her when she was young and people often said she was the most beautiful woman who ever walked the earth.

Incidentally, Turner Classic Movies has announced that it will air a 24–hour tribute to Taylor on Sunday, April 10.

Her Oscar–winning performances will be shown back to back starting at 7 p.m. (Central).