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23/3/2011: Elizabeth Taylor Dies at the Age of 79

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor was born in London, England on 27th February 1932.   Her parents were American art dealers, and her mother had been a stage actress until she married.   In 1939, when Taylor was seven years old, her family moved to Los Angeles where the suggestion of a family friend that she should attend a screen test resulted in the offer of a contract from Universal Studios.   Taylors first film, a short entitled Theres One Born Every Minute, was released when she was just ten years old.

Taylor was subsequently signed by MGM to star in Lassie Come Home.   Two tiny roles followed before she was cast as the female lead opposite Mickey Rooney in National Velvet in 1944.   The film, which grossed over $4 million, catapulted Taylor to stardom and set in motion a career that was to span seven decades.   Taylor worked steadily throughout the forties and early fifties without really establishing herself as a screen artist of any significant stature until 1957 which saw her receive an Academy Award nomination for her role in Raintree County opposite her close friend Montgomery Clift.   It was to be the first of four consecutive nominations for the Best Actress award, which she finally won for her performance in Butterfield 8.

Taylor became Hollywoods highest female earner in 1963, when she became the first actress to ever receive a $1,000,000 payment for her role in Cleopatra, Hollywoods most expensive film to that date.   However, as her looks matured as she entered her late thirties, she increasingly left the glamorous roles behind to concentrate on more challenging roles such as the blowsy, shrewish wife (opposite her real-life husband Richard Burton) in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for which she received her second Academy Award.

Although Taylor worked steadily through the remainder of the 1960s, the quality of her films gradually diminished, and in the 1970s her volume of output dropped noticeably, with the occasional diversion into television roles such as Victory at Entebbe and the mini-series North and South.

Taylors private life was as turbulent as the lives of the character she portrayed on the screen.   She was married eight times twice to Richard Burton.   Her health was always fragile following a fall from a horse while filming National Velvet which left her with severe back pain.   In February 1997 a brain tumour was successfully removed, but her health was a continuing cause for concern in the final years of her life.

In February 2011, Taylor was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre with congestive heart failure.   She died on 23rd March 2011 at the age of 79 with her children Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd and Maria Burton in attendance.

Taylor was laid to rest at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale at 2.15pm on 24th March 2011- fifteen minutes later than scheduled, at the request of the actress, who wished to be late for her own funeral.   Her coffin was draped with gardenias, violets and lily of the valley, and she was interred at Forest Lawn's Great Mausoleum beneath a marble angel.   During the hour-long service, actor Colin Farrell read Gerard Manley Hopkin's poem 'The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo', while other poems were read by her son Michael Wilding and daughter Liza.   Her grandson Rhys Tivey performed Amazing Grace on the trumpet. 

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