Elizabeth Taylor, a two-time Best Actress Oscar winner, died Tuesday at the age of 79. She had been hospitalized last month with congestive heart failure but was said to be on the mend. The screen beauty had suffered from ill-health for much of her adult life and was said to have had between 30 and 40 operation for a range of medical maladies.
Indeed, her first victory at the Oscars in 1960 for “BUtterfield 8” came in the wake of a near fatal bout with pnemonia. Elizabeth Taylor took to the stage escorted by her then-husband Eddie Fisher, her tracheotomy scar visible against her pale skin, to give thanks to the academy.
That Taylor won for a role she loathed is one of those great Hollywood ironies. She had grown from a child star at MGM, to a gorgeous ingenue to a respected actress. (See our photo gallery for a visual retrospective of her award-winning career.)
That nomination for “BUtterfield 8,” in which she plays a wanton woman, was her fourth in a row. She had landed her first bid for the sweeping Civil War drama “Raintree County” in 1957, losing to Joanne Woodward (“The Three Faces of Eve”). The following year, Taylor played Maggie opposite Woodward’s husband Paul Newman in a scorching screen version of Tennessee Williams‘ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” but she was bested by Susan Hayward (“I Want to Live!”). And in 1959, both Taylor and her on-screen nemesis in Williams’ “Suddenly, Last Summer” Katharine Hepburn lost to Simone Signoret (“Room at the Top”).
Following her win, Taylor contend just once more at the Oscars, winning in 1966 for her bravura performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opposite then-husband Richard Burton. At only age 33, Taylor was almost unrecognizable as the blowsy, boozy middle-aged Martha who harangues her hubby George (Burton) in this adapation of Edward Albee‘s Tony-winning play. While Taylor had matching Oscar bookends, Burton was never able to win despite seven nominations; for this performance, which was one of his best, he lost Paul Scofield who starred in Best Picture winner “A Man For All Seasons.”
Taylor won just one of her four Golden Globes Best Drama Actress bids — for “Suddenly, Last Summer” — and was awarded the the Cecil B. DeMille Award, the HFPA lifetime achievement prize, in 1985. She won both the New York Film Critics Circle and National Board of Review Best Actress Awards for “Woolf” as well.
In 1992, the academy bestowed the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on Taylor for her tireless work fighting the AIDS epidemic. She was one of the first Hollywood stars to raise her voice in concern and her committment to the cause was unflagging. In 1997, the Screen Actors Guild feted her with their lifetime achievement award. And in 1999, the British-born Taylor was made a Dame of the British Empire.