Elizabeth Taylor was a former child star who started acting in the early 1940s at age ten, after signing a contract with Universal Studios.
The Hollywood star’s debut film was “One Born Every Minute” (1942). After that, she had a more prominent role when she appeared in “Lassie Come Home” (1943).
However, the leading lady rose to superstardom with her stint in the movie “National Velvet” (1944). The film became a significant success raking in $4 million at the time.
Taylor later starred in more notable films, including “Butterfield 8” (1960) and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” (1965). The British native won Academy Awards for both.
How It Began & Her Health Struggles
Taylor was born to art-dealing parents in London, England, on February 27, 1932. She and her family uprooted to the United States soon after World War II began and settled in Los Angeles.
Shortly after arriving in California, a family friend suggested the couple take their daughter to a screen test. Young Taylor took after her mother, who had worked as an actress before getting married.
The future superstar started dancing at three years old, giving royal siblings Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret a recital.
Taylor’s acting career spanned over 60 years, with another memorable role in the 1944 movie, “The White Cliffs of Dover.”
As a rising star, Taylor injured herself at age twelve when she filmed “National Velvet.” She was thrown off a horse and sustained a back injury.
It later turned out that her backside was not the main issue, but scoliosis, otherwise known as a curvature in her spine. Taylor was born with the condition, causing the pain in her back that she had dealt with her entire life.
British-born star Elizabeth Taylor poses on January 1, 1945 | Source: Getty Images
It was not the last time Taylor got injured while on set. In 1953, a rusty splinter embedded in her eye while working on the film, “Elephant Walk.”
As a result, showbiz’s most popular star — 21 years old at the time – had to undergo surgery to remove it.
Several years later, Taylor encountered another health issue; this time, it was a near-fatal bout of pneumonia. In 1961, she was severely sick with pneumonia and went under the knife again for an emergency tracheotomy.
Taylor candidly talked about the near-death experience in a 2006 interview with television host, Larry King, saying doctors did the best they could to keep her alive:
“I was pronounced dead four times, so they could give me anything, just to see if they could make me breathe.”
The “Cleopatra” star experienced yet another near-fatal bout with pneumonia in 1990 and spent three months in the hospital. She endured another mild case in 2000.
With consistent health woes, Taylor developed a severe respiratory infection in 1992. Regrettably, her physician at the time, Michael Roth, MD, advised her to cancel multiple appearances she was scheduled to have.
He released a statement that read: “Due to the recurrence of a severe upper respiratory tract infection with spiking fevers verging on pneumonia, and in view of her health in the past, I have asked Miss Taylor to cancel all obligations for the next few weeks.”
Taylor suffered another health setback in 1994 when she required two hip replacements, one that year and another the following year.
Taylor continued to experience more life-threatening health issues throughout her adulthood. In 1997, she suffered a seizure, leading doctors to detect and remove a benign brain tumor.
Following the surgery, she posed bald for the cover of Life magazine, hopeful for the future. “The ups and downs, the problems and stress, along with the happiness, have given me optimism and hope because I am living proof of survival. I’ve come through things that would have felled an ox,” said the “The Flintstones” star.
Elizabeth Taylor and her first husband hotelier Conrad Hilton pose after their wedding on May 13, 1950 in Hollywood | Source: Getty Images
Taylor had another health scare with the disease in June 2002 when she underwent radiation therapy for basal cell carcinoma. Three months later, her physician, Ronald Thompson, declared, “There’s no evidence of any residual disease.”
The “Giant” star also underwent spinal surgery in 2004 to repair seven compression fractures in her spine. At the time, Taylor joked that people must have been asking themselves whether she was “still alive” or not. Speaking about her never-ending health troubles in 2004, she said:
“My body’s a real mess.”
However, because she kept on fighting for survival every time she faced a health issue, she overcame every one of them.
At some point, the media speculated that she was being treated for early Alzheimer’s, but she rubbished the claims in May 2006.
In addition to her many problematic medical woes, Taylor, who struggled with substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol, checked into rehab at the Betty Ford Center twice—in 1983 and 1988.
But Taylor’s health was not the only thing making headlines throughout her existence. Her love life often made news, having married eight times in her lifetime..
She first wed at 18 to hotel heir Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr. in 1950. Their marriage lasted less than a year, and they divorced in 1951, but she did not remain single for too long.
A year later, in 1952, she tied the knot for the second time with English actor Michael Wilding. The couple welcomed two sons, Michael Jr., born in 1953, and Christopher, who arrived two years later in 1955. However, they split in 1957.
Again, Taylor moved on quickly from the breakup and married her third husband, producer Mike Todd, in 1957. The two had one child, daughter Liza, whom they welcomed that same year. Sadly, Todd tragically died in a plane crash a year later.
Still in mourning, Taylor walked down the aisle for the fourth time with her late husband’s close friend, Eddie Fisher, in 1959. But their marriage caused controversy as Fisher left his wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, who was also a dear pal to Taylor. The couple divorced in 1964,
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the film set of “The Sandpiper” on December 1, 1965 | Source: Getty Images
Taylor wed for the fifth time with her co-star, Richard Burton, in 1964. The duo had a passionate marriage that had its troubles, leading to their divorce in 1974.
After going their separate ways, Taylor and Burton reunited and remarried in Botswana in 1975. But their rekindled romance didn’t last long; they were divorced less than a year later. Burton died on August 5, 1984.
Following the end of her 5th and 6th marriages to the same man, Taylor wed politician John Warner, whom she met when he escorted her to a dinner in Washington, D.C., in 1976. The lovebirds exchanged wedding vows later that year and divorced in 1982 but remained cordial.
Taylor’s seventh and final husband was a construction worker, Larry Fortensky, 20 years her junior. The pair met at the Betty Ford Clinic and got hitched in 1991 at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. The two split in 1996 and remained friends after.
After eight marriages, two with the same man, Taylor finally embraced being single. In 2004, she shared she was doing just fine without a husband or a lover and explained that she “learned to be alone.”
However, by April 2010, Taylor seemed to have found love again when she reportedly got engaged with Hollywood agent Jason Winters. An insider revealed they’d been seeing each other for some time and were madly in love. That said, they kept their engagement a secret, leaving room for speculation.
Taylor and Winters met through the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. They were friends for a long time and even went on vacation in Hawaii in 2007. She described him as “one of the most wonderful men I have ever known.”
But in March 2011, a year after rumors of the engagement, Taylor dismissed them and revealed she would never walk down the aisle again.
Final Years with Kids, Grandkids & Great-Grandkids
Taylor sadly passed away on March 23, 2011, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 79 years old. Prior to her death, the legend was admitted to the hospital for six weeks after suffering from complications from congestive heart failure.
The Hollywood icon was first diagnosed with the condition in 2004 and soldiered on throughout her life while going in and out of the hospital a hundred times.
Once, she even reassured her beloved fans on social media, telling them she was still alive and kicking, despite tabloids claiming otherwise. Taylor wrote on Twitter in October 2009, updating fans on her health after she had a leaky valve repaired:
“Dear friends, my heart procedure went off perfectly. It’s like having a brand new ticker.”
Doctors managed Taylor’s condition for six months and carried her from the bed to the wheelchair. Although her mind was still sharp, her health declined, and she became feeble.
Due to her dwindling health, her family decided to host her 79th birthday party a month earlier, in January 2011. They made sure her favorite flowers, gardenias and lilies of the valley, filled her Bel Air mansion.
Ahead of the celebration, a spokeswoman revealed she would be celebrating her milestone low-key while resting and recovering, adding she planned on watching the Oscar Awards with her loved ones and close pals.
When those she loved raised their glasses to toast her, Taylor remarked, “I’m not dead yet!” Even so, she was fatigued, suffered from crippling neck pain, having been hospitalized three times in 2010, but refused to have another heart surgery. Consequently, Taylor died two months later.
The star’s devoted personal assistant, Tim Mendelson, who worked for her for 25 years, revealed what an average day was like in her life. According to him, one thing he liked about Taylor was she had no routines for how she would go about each day, because she could be occupied with something else a moment at a time.
“One day it might be something having to do with the dog, or a friend who needed help. Or she might just decide to spend a few days in bed watching television,” Mendelson revealed.
He also disclosed Taylor loved playing loud music and enjoyed playing Scottish singer Susan Boyle’s music because she liked artists with powerful voices. When driving in her car, she would listen to Andrea Bocelli.
Taylor lived in a cliff-top home in Beverly Hills during the 1950s. By July 2018, the property was listed in the market for $15.9 million. The home, described by the actress as one of the “most beautiful” she had ever seen, had six bedrooms and seven bathrooms with a fountain and palm trees.
In her free time, Taylor loved to take walks in her secluded garden filled with gardenias and lilies of the valley. She had orchards cultivated in a tiny greenhouse and often hosted her big family for annual Easter parties behind her swimming pool.
However, in 2004, her back pain worsened, and she stopped taking strolls in her garden. Taylor started to rely more on a wheelchair, which she used for over five years after breaking her back four times, but that did not stop her from dressing up and looking posh.
After putting her successful acting career behind her, she focused on humanitarian work and other creative adventures.
Besides her passions, Taylor had five children overall, including daughters Liza and Maria, and sons, Michael, Christopher, and Chris. She was also a grandmother of eight grandchildren: grandsons Quinn, Tarquin, Caleb, Rhys, Lowell, and Andrew, and granddaughters, Laela and Naomi.
Laela and Naomi are Michael’s daughters. The siblings shared memories of their much-loved grandmother in March 2021 and talked about her as a grandparent, as opposed to being the fashionista and businesswoman she was also well known for.
Although it had been ten years since her death, Taylor’s grandkids revealed she continues to inspire the women in the family. Naomi recalled watching her grandmother getting ready and seeing a “transformation unfold,” becoming the woman the masses loved.
However, Naomi clarified, “Just because somebody is a superstar doesn’t also mean that they can’t be a loving, squishy, delicious grandma who was always welcoming us in.”
She further explained that Taylor knew it was her responsibility to raise the young generation in the family, and it was of utmost importance to her that she ensured they had good values.
Meanwhile, Laela said her “loving” grandmother inspired her with her activism, business empire, and talents, while her teenage daughter also looked up to her great-grandmother.