After a length bout with congestive heart failure, Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most iconic movie stars in Hollywood history and a two-time Academy Award winner (for 1960’s “Butterfield 8” and 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”), passed away in Los Angeles early this morning at the age of 79. The author of her obituary in The New York Times is as good an indicator as any of Taylor’s frequent health problems in recent years. Her obit is written primarily by Mel Gussow, who passed away six years ago, according to a note at the bottom of the article, indicating that The Times was anticipating this great star’s passing for quite a while. Here is an excerpt:
“Sometimes her film roles seemed to be a mirror image of her own life. More than most movie stars, she seemed to exist in the public domain, where her indiscretions were bared under a spotlight. She was pursued by paparazzi and denounced by the Vatican. But behind the seemingly scandalous behavior was a woman with a clear sense of morality: she habitually married her lovers. People watched and counted, with vicarious pleasure, as she became Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky — enough marriages to certify her career as a serial wife. Asked why she married so often, she said, in an assumed drawl: ‘I don’t know, honey. It sure beats the hell out of me.'”
Though I would never dispute Taylor’s impact on American culture, I’m not going to sit here and pretend she’s made a major impact on my own life. By the time I started watching movies, Taylor had all but retired from acting; as a child, I knew her primarily as a late night talk show punchline (for all those marriages mentioned above, eight of them to seven different men) and as a tireless perfume peddler. I’ve seen some of her most famous roles but I’ll confess to being woefully unknowledgeable about most of her filmography. But if one good thing comes out of great actors’ deaths is that they afford us an opportunity to take time out from our perpetual obsession with what is next and new to reflect on and reassess their careers and lives. So look for us to do that in the days ahead with Mrs. Taylor on IFC.com. I’m looking forward to it.