When I was growing up, Elizabeth Taylor was the biggest star in the world. All you had to write or say was "Liz" and everyone knew that you meant Liz Taylor. Liz was so much larger than life; you could say she was the Angelina, Lindsay and Paris of her day -- all rolled into one. It was that face, that fabulous face, and now that she's gone she will return to being beautiful and will remain that way forever.
Liz was one of the first truly modern women. Even when she stole Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds it could be broken down as the battle between old school vs. new school. I don't know what Debbie Reynolds was really like, but she was painted by the press as the more traditional mom and helpmate to Liz's take no prisoners femme fatale.
Liz was not only beautiful, she was smart and she was tough. She didn't seem to care about the rules. She married and divorced when she wanted, whom she wanted and never apologized. I used to wait every month for the magazine Photoplay to arrive to get the latest news on her personal life. She was always glamorous, always impeccable, always stylish. Liz was the kind of style icon who couldn't be emulated. After all, who could look like Liz? She could carry off things that would make other women look silly.
If Liz was at a party, I imagined it must have been the most exciting party ever. Every man wanted to know her, from key grips to the heads of state. She had true feminine power and she knew how to wield it. When she was photographed kissing Sammy Davis Jr. on the lips, the shot was seen around the world. There was a huge outcry over that photo, but La Liz never flinched. She held up the filming of Cleopatra in a contract dispute and became the first actor to receive a million dollars for one film. That seems like a pittance today, but in the 60s it was unheard of.
Liz never once said she couldn't get a job because of her age; she simply started taking TV roles and then debuted on the Broadway stage. Then she founded a new business model for aging actresses by starting her own perfume and other business trading on her name and reputation. But the best thing about Liz was her loyalty and friendship. She started AMFAR because no one else would step up and say something needed to be done to combat HIV. Her dear friend Rock Hudson died of the disease, she was a friend to a lot of gay men in Hollywood and she decided to use her considerable clout to raise money to find a treatment and to make taking care of the affected fashionable.
Liz also never ran away from a fight. It would have been easy to distance herself from Michael Jackson during his many trials, but she was always a loyal friend who believed in his innocence.
I hadn't thought about Liz in a long time, but she was almost a daily presence in my childhood. What I learned watching her was that just as she herself proclaimed her epitaph should be, "She lived," she showed others how to live as well. It wasn't about being like her; it was about finding out who you are and being yourself.
So long, funny lady.
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