Elizabeth Taylor

“I’ve been through it all, baby, I’m mother courage.”

Elizabeth Taylor, British-American actress, 1932-2011 

Elizabeth Taylor was a glamourous actress known for her lead roles in Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as much as for her collections of diamonds and ex-husbands, of which she had eight. Her stunning violet-coloured eyes helped her win emotionally charged roles, leading to more than 50 films over her lengthy career. She was also a humanitarian, and launched the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation to raise money for research. 

Born in London, England to a pair of American art dealers, she was raised in Los Angeles. Young “Liz” Taylor was first noticed for her dancing, at the age of three, and was just 10 when she made her screen debut. She took on many roles as a child actor, and married hotel heir Nicky Hilton at age 17. In the ’50s and ’60s she won dozens of roles and won an Oscar for her performances in Butterfield 8.

Never one to shy from scandal, after Taylor’s second husband died in a plane crash, she took up with his married best friend and won his hand in marriage. But her most famous marriage was to be her fifth. 

Always one to dress to the nines, for her wedding, to actor Richard Burton at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Taylor wore a yellow dress by Cleopatra’s costume designer, an 18-carat Bulgari emerald brooch, and had her hairdresser create an elaborate hairpiece of white hyacinths and lily-of-the-valley that trailed down her back like a floral veil. She and Burton travelled with a personal photographer to capture their glamorous lifestyle. Standing only 5 foot 2, Taylor’s outsize personality, intellect and bold fashion statements more than made up for her small stature. She is credited with making the designer caftan a trend in the 1950s and ’60s; model Naomi Campbell and Anna Sui have bought them at auction.

Taylor’s jewellery collection was also famous and always on display. She was so attached to her 33-carat diamond ring given to her by Burton and dubbed “The Elizabeth Diamond,” that she refused to take it off, even when filming in character. (Upon her death in 2011 it sold at Christie’s for $8.8 million.) She and Burton co-starred in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for which Taylor won her second Oscar playing the overweight wife of an abusive husband. The storyline would be prescient. 

Taylor’s life was not all yachts and diamonds; she had her share of personal tragedy, struggles with addiction and weight, and other health concerns. But she always picked herself up and went on with what she called “the business of life,” putting on lipstick and a smile.

In addition to her acting career, Taylor also had a perfume empire. White Diamonds, her signature scent, was released in 1991 and featured gardenia—Taylor’s favourite flower. Most recently, the Elizabeth Taylor Archive opened in Los Angeles with thousands of photographs and artifacts depicting her life’s work.


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