Elizabeth Taylor dead at 79

By: Manuel Gallagues, CBS News Email
By: Manuel Gallagues, CBS News Email

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

LOS ANGELES -- Legendary actress and performer Elizabeth Taylor is dead at the age of 79.

Her publicist tells CBS News she died early this morning at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

She was hospitalized several weeks ago with congestive heart failure. Her publicist adds Taylor died peacefully with her family by her side.

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor debut in her first movie "National Velvet," at just 12 years old.

During the next seven decades the public would be fascinated by her marriages and scandalous affairs, her countless illnesses, surgeries, and see-sawing appearance, and her remarkable ability to triumph through it all.

After a string of films as a teenager in the fifties, critics finally recognized Taylor for her acting as well as her violet-eyed beauty.

By 1957 she had been divorced twice.

"I could really care less about making movies. I consider it much more important to be a good woman than a good actor." said the star in a 1957 interview.

A year later, the public no longer thought Taylor was a good woman. Devastated by the death of her third husband Mike Todd in a plane crash, Taylor found comfort in his best friend Eddie Fisher.

Soon, the public despised Taylor for breaking up the marriage of Fisher and sweetheart Debbie Reynolds. He became husband number four in what was the biggest Hollywood scandal of the decade.

Yet, less than three years later the public was back on Taylor's side after she almost died of pneumonia. Sympathy from her emergency tracheotomy helped her win an Academy Award for best actress in Butterfield 8.

In 1963, Taylor became the highest paid actress in film history, receiving $1 million for Cleopatra.

Still married to Fisher, she began a stormy love affair with her co-star, Richard Burton, who became husband number five and six. They were boozy and volatile. Taylor said of the relationship at the time, "I think that fighting with someone you love and are really sure of, and if you're really sure of yourself in your love, having an out and out fight is one of the greatest exercises in marital togetherness."

The couple would make nine films together with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" earning Taylor her second Oscar in what's considered her finest performance.

Theirs was a larger-than-life romance right down to the 69 and a half carat diamond Burton bought for her. They divorced in 1976.

Eventually Taylor parlayed her love for jewels into successful businesses. Her fragrance "White Diamonds" topped a billion dollars in sales.

She also took on many social causes, and was especially outspoken in the fight against AIDS.

In 1991, Taylor surprised everyone with her eighth marriage to Larry
Fortensky, a 40-year-old recovering alcoholic construction worker. They met while they were both in rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic and were married at Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch.

Throughout her loves Taylor had two sons and two daughters .

Most recently, at 72, she revealed she had congestive heart failure. Still, she never completely shied away from the public eye.

When asked what she considered her biggest accomplishment, Elizabeth Taylor replied, "I survived."

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