NEW YORK, (Reuters) – Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor, who rose from child actor to become one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses with a tumultuous life, died today at age 79, her publicist said.
She died at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles surrounded by her four children after having been hospitalized six weeks ago with congestive heart failure, a statement from publicist Sally Morrison said.
In a career spanning seven decades, Taylor was nominated for five Oscars and won the best actress honor twice.
In real life, she battled excess weight and drug addiction, and was married eight times, including twice to actor Richard Burton.
“My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love. 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,” son Michael Wilding said in a statement.
The violet-eyed Taylor, who began her movie career at age 10 and was often ranked in fan polls as the most beautiful woman on screen, was plagued by health problems for many years.
Taylor’s life had two worlds. She was a powerful actress who won an Academy Award for playing a call girl in “Butterfield 8” in 1960, another for her portrayal of a foul-mouthed alcoholic in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 1967, and earned Oscar nominations for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Suddenly, Last Summer” and “Raintree County.”
On the other hand, her personal life set a Hollywood standard for glamour and tumult. After the death of her third husband, film producer Mike Todd, in 1958, she found herself in a well-chronicled love triangle with singer Eddie Fisher and his wife actress Debbie Reynolds, before marrying Fisher.
While filming the lavishly produced “Cleopatra” in 1961, she started a torrid, tabloid-chronicled affair with Richard Burton, who played Mark Antony and who was also married at the time.
Taylor’s relationship with Burton was a saga in itself. The two strong-willed actors wed in 1964 after she divorced Fisher, and Burton bestowed furs and diamonds, including a $1 million pear-shaped jewel, on Taylor while publicly praising her “wonderful bosom.”
But they also hurled invective at one another and were brilliantly cast in the movie of dramatist Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” about a bitter, verbally abusive couple.
“We enjoy fighting,” Taylor once said. “Having an out-and-out, outrageous, ridiculous fight is one of the greatest exercises in marital togetherness.”