Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

The gay community loses a champion for the fight against AIDS and equal rights

Dame Elizabeth Taylor was an icon. Her stunning looks and acting talents catapulted her to the top of Hollywood’s elite – but with no shortage of controversies that become a legend. Today, after hearing of her passing this morning, we would like to remember some of the highlights from the two-time Oscar winner’s life – from her early days as a child star to her rise to grand dame of the silver screen and Oscar winner, and later years as an advocate for equal rights and the fight against AIDS.

Taylor – who was born in England – was a staunch friend to gays and lesbians long before many others would embrace the cause. And she spent many of the last 30 years fighting for issues that were close to her heart – including AIDS research, for which she raised more than $100 million.

This is how we’ll remember her.

In 1944, “National Velvet” made her a star. But she also shined in one of her first films “Lassie Come Home,” where the lavender-eyed beauty met lifelong friend Roddy McDowall. Although he never came out publicly as being gay, it was acknowledged in most circles that McDowall was among many actors forced to stay in the closet for fear of damaging their careers. In fact, Taylor was friend to many gay men in entertainment long before anyone knew their secret, including Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson.

Men played a big role in Taylor’s life – to say the least. She was married eight times to seven husbands – she married Richard Burton twice. That might explain her advocacy for gay marriage in California. Her years with Burton also proved creative gold. She starred in the acclaimed film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” written by gay playwright Edward Albee. It is believed among many that the boozy duo of George and Martha were actually based on a same-sex relationship. Taylor won an Oscar for her role. In all, she starred in more than 50 films during her memorable career.

Other Taylor films that inspired a huge gay following include “Cleopatra,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” (a movie based on the play by gay Tennessee Williams), and “Giant,” co-starring both homoerotic hunks Rock Hudson and James Dean.

Scandal – and brushes with death – plagued much of the actress’ life, most notably the infamous affair she had with Eddie Fisher while he was still married to Debbie Reynolds. Taylor’s husband Mike Todd died in a plane crash before she took up with the married crooner who eventually left Reynolds to marry Taylor. Fisher’s daughter Carrie would talk about the affair in her one-woman-show “Wishful Drinking” about her own struggles with fame…and marrying a gay man.

Taylor also beat the odds several times – surviving illness, pain and disease – including a brain tumor and heart complications. She was often compared to a cat with her nine lives. And after losing the Oscar to Taylor in “Butterfield 8” in 1960, Shirley MacLaine famously said, “I lost to a tracheotomy.” Taylor was suffering with life-threatening pneumonia at the time – one of many ailments that would inflict her over the years. Taylor would also be seen in a wheelchair from time to time because of a back pain that plagued her for decades after falling from a horse as a child star.

She was friends with the industry’s eccentrics – Michael Jackson and Liza Minnelli (who can forget that wedding photo when Minnelli married David Guest?) – and partied hard at hot spots like Studio 54 before sobering up – and thinning down – at the Betty Ford Center.

The vixen also launched popular perfume lines (White Diamonds and Passion), inspiring a trend that other young celebrities would also enjoy to this day. And she seemed to make headlines wherever in the world she traveled. More recently, she was spotted at gay club The Abbey in West Hollywood.

Taylor will also be remembered for her charity work, namely establishing AMFAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) after Rock Hudson – who was dying of AIDS complications – inspired her to raise money for the cause. This was in 1985. By 1991, she began the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation. She was the first major Hollywood star to address the disease.

Taylor’s son Michael Wilding made a statement about his mother after her passing this morning: “My mother was an extraordinary women 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 the world.”

Or as Taylor once said, “I don’t pretend to be an ordinary housewife.”