Is there any doubt that Elizabeth Taylor defined "celebrity" for the modern age? With her violet eyes, blockbuster jewelry (which she owned, as opposed to today's stars, who borrow or steal it), tempestuous romances and influential charities, she was someone we could never quite stop watching.
We watched her grow up on screen, from child star to young beauty to Liz, who needed only one name. We were shocked by her eight marriages. We grieved with her over the untimely death of her third husband, Michael Todd, in a plane crash; we scorned her for taking up with Eddie Fisher -- her eventual fourth -- when he was still married to Debbie Reynolds. We watched agog as she carried on a torrid affair with Richard Burton on the set of "Cleopatra," the lavish film that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, March 25, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 22 Editorial Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Liz: A March 24 editorial on the death of Elizabeth Taylor mentioned her marriage to "then-Sen. John Warner of Virginia." He was not yet a senator when they married.
We were transfixed by Liz and Dick's jet-set hedonism -- and not one but two marriages. Years later, when she married then-Sen. John Warner of Virginia and transformed herself into a political wife, we wondered whether she was bored out of her mind living inside the Beltway.
We knew she loved the chili at Chasen's -- she had it delivered to the "Cleopatra" set in Rome -- and watched over the years as she went from voluptuous to fat to slim again. We watched as her hair went from blue-black to a stunning silver, which she flaunted. We watched as she suffered illnesses and mishaps and did a stint in rehab, reading with concern the reports about her failing health, her difficulty walking. She seemed to always recover -- until her death Wednesday from congestive heart failure.
The public twists and turns of her life seemed a test of social mores, and little of it appeared prosaic, even when she was trying to be ordinary in Washington. In the last few decades she came to embody the best use of Hollywood clout, as one of the earliest supporters of AIDS causes (and the founding international chair of the American Foundation for AIDS Research) at a time when its sufferers were practically considered lepers. And so we watched nonstop. As of Wednesday, her Twitter account had 331,542 followers.
Taylor stopped making movies so long ago that you'd be hard pressed to remember the last time you saw her onscreen in a theater. (Could it have been as Wilma's mother in the 1994 live-action "The Flintstones"?) But it's unlikely that many people who heard the news of her death uttered that sad remark often heard when old Hollywood stars die: "Oh, I thought she was already dead."