LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Elizabeth Taylor–who went from child star to Hollywood doyenne, and whose marriages, many illnesses and humanitarian efforts made headlines for decades–died this morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of congestive heart failure.
She was 79.
Taylor’s children–Michael and Christopher Wilding; Liza Todd and Maria Burton–were with her at the hospital when she died, according to her publicist, Sally Morrison.
The two-time Oscar-winning actress also is survived by 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
TMZ.com reported that Taylor died at 1:28 a.m., and had been hospitalized for the past couple of weeks.
Morrison told TMZ that Taylor died “peacefully” from congestive heart failure, “a condition … she had struggled with for many years.” A private funeral will be held later this week.
“My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor and love,” Michael Wilding said in a statement.
“Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world.
“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. We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for mom having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts,” Wilding said.
Born in London, England, on Feb. 27, 1932, Taylor’s acting career began when she was a child.
In 1944, she starred in MGM’s “National Velvet,” which became a smash hit.
A series of films followed in the 1940s and continued for decades.
Highlights included “Giant” with James Dean; “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with Paul Newman, and “Cleopatra” with Richard Burton, who she married and divorced twice.
None of her films were bigger for her, however, than “Butterfield 8” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” both of which won her Best Actress Oscars in the 1960s.
Taylor married Conrad Nicholas “Nicky” Hilton Jr. in 1950, when she was 17. They were divorced after eight months.
Taylor was married eight times to seven men. In 1952, she married British actor Michael Wilding, with whom she had two children, Michael and Christopher. They were divorced in 1957.
That same year, she married Mike Todd, who died a year later in a plane crash. In 1959, she married singer Eddie Fisher.
While working on the movie “Cleopatra,” while still married to Fisher, she began an affair with co-star Richard Burton. In 1964, she and Fisher were divorced, and she and Burton were married.
They were divorced in 1974, remarried the following year, and then were divorced a year later.
Her other marriages were to former U.S. Senator John Warner (1976-82) and to construction worker Larry Fortensky (1991-96), who she married at singer Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
TMZ reported that Taylor has a plot next to her parents at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Among those who are buried or interred there are Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Dean Martin, Truman Capote, Farah Fawcett and Walter Matthau.
Throughout her adult life, Taylor was in and out of hospitals for treatment of a range of illnesses.
By the time she was 66, she had undergone more than 20 major surgeries, including an operation in 1997 to remove a benign growth in the lining of her brain.
She nearly died of viral pneumonia in 1990 and had a relapse two years later that led to another hospital stay.
On her 66th birthday, Taylor fell at her home, which resulted in another trip to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where doctors discovered a slight compression fracture in her lower back.
Ailing or well, Taylor was a tireless campaigner in the battle against AIDS. She was a founding national chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and founder of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
The motion picture academy honored Taylor in 1992 with its Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Award.
In 1998, Taylor was named the 34th recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, which honors both career achievements and humanitarian contributions.
The award, established in 1962 as SAG’s highest national honor, has been received by such entertainers as Robert Redford, Audrey Hepburn, Jack Lemmon, George Burns, Katharine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster and Angela Lansbury.
“From the time Miss Taylor first entered our lives as the innocent child in ‘National Velvet,’ the world has loved her,” then SAG President Richard Masur said at the time.
“And when the horror of AIDS was still an unacknowledged threat, Miss Taylor came forward to demand that we not only pay attention but do something about it, a commitment she has maintained without compromise,” Masur said.
“For this, among her many other humanitarian endeavors, we salute her.”