“My Mother says I didn’t open my eyes for eight days when I was born but when I did, the first thing I saw was an engagement ring. I was hooked.”
The term style icon has become so devalued in recent years to have become almost meaningless, but Liz Taylor was one of the very few women who could lay claim to having a truly iconic look. In her 79 years she went through several marriages, billions of dollars of diamonds, gallons of eyeliner, hundreds of Dior couture commissions and fluctuations in look, but her style remained constant: unapologetically glamorous, a Hollywood star to the core.
Taylor was born on 27 February 1932, in London, the daughter of two wealthy American art dealers, Francis and Sara Taylor. The family moved to America just after the second world war began and settled in Los Angeles where her mother, a former actor, encouraged her daughter’s career.
It was a career that made her a star at 12, a bride and a divorcee at 18 and a widow at 26. Wilding said: “Her remarkable body of work in film, her ongoing success as a businesswoman, and her brave and relentless advocacy in the fight against HIV/Aids, all make us all incredibly proud of what she accomplished.”
At the age of 17, Elizabeth Taylor arrived at the 1949 Academy Award with a favored feminine dress. The violet-eye beauty won the Best Costume title for this occasion.
In the 50s she was voted the Most Beautiful Woman In the World and she holds the record for the most appearances on the cover of Life magazine: eleven in all. It was then that she set the template for her Hollywood-on-steroids look.
Not for Taylor the crash-and-burn fate of the average child actor. By the early 1960s she was the Hollywood’s highest-paid star “If someone’s dumb enough to pay me a million dollars to make a movie” she said, “I’m not dumb enough to turn it down”.
For good measure, she won a brace of best actress Oscars for her roles in BUtterfield 8 (1960) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966).
The climax of her career came in 1963 when she and her future husband Richard Burton began their affair on the set of Cleopatra. It coincided with a screen look so iconic that the beauty industry is for ever thankful – no one wore black eye kohl better than the violet-eyed Taylor.
Her style was aided and abetted by a body that Burton described as “a true miracle of construction and the work of an engineer of genius”.
It is unlikely that her bikini shots – a highlight being a leopard-print cantilevered work of beachwear wonder – would have had quite the same impact had she not possessed what Burton termed her “apocalyptic breasts”.
With Richard Burton at 1970 Academy Awards
Husband number one was the American hotel heir Conrad ‘Nicky’ Hilton Jr. It supposed to be forever; they divorced within a year (married 6th May 1950, divorced 1st February 1951)
With second husband actor, Michael Wilding (married 21st February 1952, divorced 30th January 1957)
Like mother like son, Taylor and her son Michael Wilding Jnr posed in matching leopard swimsuits in the 1950’s
She was married to Michael Todd for less than a year when he died in a plane crash, but the couple had a daughter together (married 2nd February 1957, he died 22nd March 1958)
Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958
Taylor promptly ditched her fourth spouse – actor and singer Eddie Fisher (married 12th May 1959 divorced 6th March 1964) after beginning an affair with Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra.
‘I don’t remember much about Cleopatra,’ she said later. ‘There were a lot of other things going on.’ Their relationship was loving but tempestuous.
They were married first from 1964 to 1974 and then again between 1975 and 1976 .
With sixth husband, Senator John Warner (married 4th December 1976, divorced 7th November 1982).
With seventh husband Larry Fortensky, Construction worker that she met at the rehab (married 6th October 1991, divorced 31st October 1996).
She underwent at least 20 major operations, broke her back five times, nearly died from pneumonia, had both hip joints replaced and underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumour. In 1983, she acknowledged a 35-year addiction to sleeping pills and painkillers. Taylor was probably the most famous star to be treated for alcohol and drug abuse problems at the Betty Ford clinic in California.
In later years her advanced osteoporosis meant that she was largely confined to a wheelchair.
In 2005 she was an ardent supporter of Michael Jackson during his trial for child abuse. Taylor’s verdict: ‘I think he is one of the finest people to hit this planet and, in my estimation, he is the true king of pop, rock and soul.’
She also championed charitable causes, notably the fight against Aids. After Hudson’s death she founded the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation and spoke out at a time when many were afraid to.
“I’m a survivor. I’m a living example of what people can go through and survive”
Liz Famous Style Facts
An Elizabeth Taylor doll on display at the 50th anniversary celebration of Barbie at Bloomingdale’s, New York, in 2009
The Prom Dress
The sweet white strapless tulle dress, covered in daisies and designed by Edith Head, that Taylor wore as society debutante Angela Vickers in 1951’s A Place in the Sun became the most copied prom dress of that decade.
In 1963, makeup on the filming of the epic Cleopatra cemented the look of Taylor’s flashing sapphire eyes, rimmed in kohl and framed by strong, immaculately arched natural brows.
She carried it over into her off-set styling and popularized the look, which lasted through Talitha Getty and the boho 1970s (also thanks to the embellished caftans the dame herself was fond of wearing). And when Taylor grew out her signature midge haircut of the 1950s into a 1960s bouffant, so did women everywhere.
Faux? Forget it! The Grand Duchess of Russia’s Emeralds. The 69-carat Burton-Taylor diamond. A 33-carat Krupp diamond ring, the La Peregrina Pearls, a diamond tiara from Mike Todd, the Taj Mahal heart-shaped yellow diamond necklace, Sapphires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds, each lover’s gift larger and twinklier than the last.
Let’s just say the lady went big, and she didn’t wear costume jewellery — as she herself details in the book My Love Affair with Jewellery (photo shot for the book cover)
Elizabeth’s diamond engagement ring
The original celebrity perfumer’s fragrances still rank in the top international sales today!
Asked in 1999 what she would like to see written on her gravestone, Taylor replied: “Here lies Elizabeth. She hated being called Liz. But she lived.”
We’ve lost one of the last true Hollywood stars.
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