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Taylor's 65th Birthday Gala Raises $1 Million for AIDS

February 18, 1997|ANGIE CHUANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elizabeth Taylor, who is facing surgery soon for a benign brain tumor, celebrated her 65th birthday in her characteristic glamour at a black-tie gala in Hollywood Sunday night with a star-studded cast of well-wishers.

The party, an AIDS benefit taped for later viewing on ABC, was marked by humor and appreciation for the actress' beauty, screen career and AIDS activism.

Taylor, who learned of the benign tumor well after plans for the gala had been set, had originally scheduled the procedure for the day following her party. Last week, she was forced to postpone it, however, because she was recovering from the flu. A new date for the surgery has not been set, Taylor's publicist Maria Pignataro said Monday afternoon.

Despite her health problems, Taylor appeared to be in good spirits Sunday as she reminded 2,700 guests of what she felt was the true purpose for the gathering.

"I'm not here to celebrate my birthday. I'm here to celebrate all the people around the world with AIDS," Taylor said. "They will be touched by your love, and I thank you so much for that."

At the taping, producers said the event raised $1 million for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and is expected to reap more donations when the two-hour special airs Feb. 24.

Celebrities including Michael Jackson, Dennis Hopper, Shirley MacLaine, Cher, Roseanne and Patti LaBelle spoke, sang or performed comedy acts in honor of Taylor at the Pantages Theatre. The program revolved around a series of video montages highlighting Taylor's career and life from her child stardom at age 9 in "National Velvet" to her current role as AIDS spokeswoman and philanthropist.

A stretch of Hollywood Boulevard was renamed Elizabeth Taylor Boulevard for the evening in honor of the actress' birthday, which is actually Feb. 27.

Madonna was a surprise guest at the close of the program. Holding written notes because none were prepared for her on the TelePrompTer, the singer-actress said she always wanted to be Taylor. "I wanted violet eyes and translucent skin. . . . And I wanted Montgomery Clift, James Dean and Rock Hudson to put their arms around me." However, Madonna said, "the work [for the AIDS foundation] that she has done in the last 12 years has made her a true star."

Many of the guests affectionately ribbed Taylor about her extravagant taste in jewelry and her seven husbands. A gold-lame-clad Roseanne, speaking in the guise of Cleopatra, quipped, "Who else has had so many men at her feet? . . . It's just you and me."

Taylor came on stage beaming after being introduced by actor Hugh Grant, who jokingly referred to Taylor as "my second-favorite Elizabeth" following his girlfriend, model-actress Elizabeth Hurley.

Pop star and longtime friend Michael Jackson, who arrived with Taylor, sat next to her during the evening. Jackson was making his first appearance since the recent birth of his first son, whose godmother is Taylor. Taylor was also accompanied by her family.

Jackson sang, "Elizabeth," which he wrote especially for the occasion. He gave a markedly spare performance without his usual pyrotechnics, props or supporting cast, with the exception of a child actress appearing at the beginning of the number who was representing Taylor as a girl.

Jackson's lyrics proclaimed:

They wanted you to fall

It's very sad

People can be very bad . . .

But you were the victor.

Whoopi Goldberg, who was unable to attend because she is starring in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" on Broadway, gave Taylor a brazen pre-taped birthday greeting.

Then, proclaiming that she was going to give Taylor "something that no one else would dare to give," Goldberg presented Taylor with a slip of paper that was supposedly her first Social Security check.

Taylor erupted into one of her heartiest laughs of the evening as she clapped her hands.

The actress was equally amused, though she mocked alarm, when illusionist David Copperfield made a huge diamond ring she was wearing disappear. To her apparent relief, it reappeared in his back pocket.

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