Actress, legend, and original tabloid superstar Elizabeth Taylor died today at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles from congestive heart failure, which she was hospitalized for six weeks ago. She was 79 years old.
These days people throw around "Hollywood legend" or "celebrity" to describe someone with a couple of movies to their name or a few seasons of a reality show under their belt. Elizabeth Taylor was the real thing and her life inspired every conceivable gossip column storyline long before stealing a husband or marrying a younger man became tradition. Whether it was luring Eddie Fisher away from his wife and children after the death of her husband, her tumultuous multiple marriages to Richard Burton, her yo-yoing weight, the colossal bombing of her film Cleopatra, her stint in rehab where she met and eventually married a construction worker, her weird friendship with Michael Jackson, her work with AIDS charities when the epidemic was still in its infancy, her cheesy perfume commercials, or being one of the oldest celebs on Twitter, Elizabeth Taylor always did it first, and did it best.
But it wasn't Taylor's brushes with infamy or her well-publicized seven marriages that first made her famous. She began her film career in the early '40s and first gained recognition and acclaim as the star of National Velvet, the now classic film about a woman and her horse. She went on to a number of other successes, including two Oscar-winning turns in Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Many of her films have since become cinematic classics, like A Place in the Sun, Giant, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Taylor's work as an actress slowed down in the 1980s and '90s, but her visibility never waned. Even those who only were familiar with her as the voice of baby Maggie on The Simpsons still knew who Taylor was, thanks to a million National Enquirer covers, late night talk show jokes, and the reflected glory of being one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
While much will be said today about Taylor's tumultuous personal life and her dedication to charity—the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS foundation grossed as much as her films ever did—what shouldn't be forgotten is her work. Playing a doe-eyed heiress in A Place in the Sun or a hysterical alcoholic harpie in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Taylor possessed enormous talent, one thing so many current "celebrities" lack. They may have Taylor's beauty or penchant for personal drama, but few have the ability to tear up a screen like Dame Elizabeth. Over the course of her eight decades, Taylor showed us what it means to be a magnet for scandal and a true celebrity. She did it with grace, class, and panache. And for that we'll never forget her.
[Images via AP]