Defining Elizabeth Taylor, dead at 79 - a look back at a movie star's legacy

The memorial around Elizabeth Taylor's Hollywood Walk of Fame star continues to grow on March 23, 2011 as fans remember the film legend.
The memorial around Elizabeth Taylor's Hollywood Walk of Fame star continues to grow on March 23, 2011 as fans remember the film legend. Brian Watt/KPCC

With the overnight death of Elizabeth Taylor of congestive heart failure at Los Angeles's Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, movie and cultural historians are examining her career, which began in 1941 with Universal Pictures. She was known for her eight marriages to seven men (Richard Burton twice), her three Academy Awards and her humanitarian work.

John Warner remembers Elizabeth Taylor

Former Sen. John Warner says that he and his former wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor, "were always friends, to the end."

In a statement, the 84-year-old Warner said Wednesday he would remember Taylor "as a woman whose heart and soul were as beautiful as her classic face and majestic eyes."

Taylor, who died Wednesday in Los Angeles, married Warner in 1976 and was at the Virginian's side when he won a Senate seat two years later. He credits her with helping him win that election. They were divorced in 1982.

Warner says that his "children bonded with hers and they will be together at the services in California."

In a public appearance later Wednesday, he called Taylor "an iconic figure in the history of her profession."

AP Retrospective: Stars on Liz Taylor.

- Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Memorial around Taylor’s Hollywood star continues to grow

Fans of Elizabeth Taylor have surrounded her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with glamour photos and bouquets of flowers.

Maggie Pena, who worked for Paramount Studios, remembers seeing Taylor when she attended an event marking the studio’s 75th anniversary. Pena said Taylor carried herself with grace.

“Plus I just admire her passion and the way she lived life very aggressively but very fully,” said Pena. “You know, she was surrounded by gorgeous men, and what woman doesn’t want to be surrounded herself with very beautiful men? Plus, you know, she also was at the top of her game in her career. So she was at the top of her game in life, and that I loved about her.”

Pena compared Taylor to her longtime friend, the late Michael Jackson, and said stars like them are few and far between.

- Brian Watt

Hollywood Chamber of Commerce places wreath at star of Elizabeth Taylor on Walk of Fame

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce placed a floral wreath today at Elizabeth Taylor’s star on the Walk of Fame.

Chamber president Leron Gubler says the floral tributes have become a tradition on the day a star on the Walk of Fame passes away. "We asked the florist if he could do something that would kind of commemorate her eyes. We all know one of the great features of Elizabeth Taylor was her eye color, which was a violet, blueish-violet color. So hopefully that caught the spirit of Elizabeth Taylor."

Fans have also placed flowers around the newly-polished star.

- Brian Watt

Rock Star Adler says Elizabeth Taylor became famous back when it required talent

Fans of Elizabeth Taylor have surrounded her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with flowers. Drummer Steven Adler of Guns ‘N’ Roses fame is one of many fans who stopped by that star to pay his respects.

"It’s the same thing as like when Bob Hope passed away," says Adler. "We’ve lost a beautiful, wonderful talent. Because nowadays you don’t have to have talent to be famous. You used to have to be able to dance and sing and be a real actor."

Adler’s favorite Elizabeth Taylor performance: Cleopatra.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce placed a lavender floral wreath at the star. Elizabeth Taylor’s star was one of the original 1,558 placed in 1960 to establish the Walk of Fame along Hollywood Boulevard.

- Brian Watt

Violet wreath placed at Taylor's Walk of Fame star

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The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has placed a wreath at Elizabeth Taylor's star on the Walk of Fame. Michael Caine told AP Radio years ago, "She never makes a mistake once the camera rolls - never."

Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, explained that a special wreath was ordered in honor of Elizabeth Taylor today. "In honor of the stars, we place flowers at their star." They asked the florist if they could do something with the color of her eyes, so they delivered a wreath made up of hydrangeas and orchids that shared that violet color.

Gubler called Taylor "a grand lady" and applauded her efforts on behalf of AIDS research.

Elizabeth Taylor was part of the first class of stars installed on the Walk of Fame when it began in 1960. There were no ceremonies back then, as they didn't start until 1968.

TV crews crowded the scene this morning. Fans began to arrive to pay their respects as word slowly got out.

- Brian Watt, Steve Julian & Mike Roe

People gather at Elizabeth Taylor's Walk of Fame star

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A lot of people have headed to the Hollywood Walk of Fame to see Elizabeth Taylor's star. Bearded irises have been laid around the top of the star.

The star was surrounded by camera crews this morning. A few fans passed by, some learning of her death at the time.

The flowers on the star early this morning were placed by members of the paparazzi, who quickly left them and moved on.

The importance to Hollywood of Elizabeth Taylor is shown in the history of the Walk of Fame itself. Her star was one of the original 1,558 stars placed when the Walk of Fame began in February 1960.

There were no big ceremonies back then and no photo ops, but one is coming today – at about 10 a.m., Hollywood Chamber of Commerce officials are scheduled to place a big wreath around the star. They say it's the color of Elizabeth Taylor's eyes.

- Brian Watt & Mike Roe

Looking back at Elizabeth Taylor's legacy

William Mann wrote the book “How to be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood” and spoke with KPCC's Steve Julian.

"She defined stardom, that template that has been used ever since," says Mann, "making her personal life as important as what she did on the screen. She had this very compelling offscreen life that the public followed just as much as all of her movie roles."

She appreciated that, "but what was so special about Elizabeth Taylor was that she didn't do it with any sense of calculation, or with this sense that she wanted to be in the public eye or that fame mattered so much to her. She lived a life according to her own whims and her own desires. Her men, and her furs, and her jewelry. She loved it.

"She lived larger than life, and the public followed that. Today, stars seem to try to do that simply so that they can get their names in the headlines and the front pages of the newspapers and magazines. Elizabeth Taylor was very spontaneous and the public saw that."

Mann says that one word that could be applied to her is "hedonistic." "For her, she loved everything about life. She just loved to eat, and she loved to drink, and she loved to travel, and she loved to fall in love.

"She lived a life full of passions. That's a word that's always been associated with her. And she did it because she enjoyed it. It wasn't because she was seeking attention. The attention came, but it wasn't because she was looking for it."

Mann says that different aspects of Taylor's career climaxed at different points. "She's had so many different kinds of careers in some ways. She was most famous, I suppose, in 1961, '62, when the scandal in Rome broke, between she and Richard Burton. He was married, she was married. There were no two more famous people in the world at that point."

Mans says that Taylor's acting career itself peaked with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" "It was an amazing performance. No one expected her to be able to do work like that. She won the Oscar. So, you know, there are so many moments of her life that will stand up in history."

It wasn't until 1982 that she made her Broadway and West End debuts on stage. "At that point in her life, she was in her fifties, and Hollywood wasn't exactly coming around with roles for actresses of her age, and she was ending a marriage with Senator John Warner. She wasn't happy in her life in Washington and I think she saw going to Broadway as a whole 'nother adventure.

"She was somebody who always wanted a new adventure, and she took it. I don't think she enjoyed being on stage as much as she enjoyed kind of the camaraderie of making movies, but she, according to people that worked with her in 'The Little Foxes,' she was very much liked and she had fun.

Mann says that Taylor saw acting as a means to an end. "Acting wasn't her great passion. She enjoyed kind of the perks that came out of acting, but she wasn't someone who kind of said, 'Oh, I want my next big role, I want to sink my teeth into this.' This was somebody who did her work because she enjoyed the work, not so much the craft itself."

- Steve Julian & Mike Roe

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