She will be remembered for her remarkable film career, her headline-making love life and many marriages, her friendship with Michael Jackson, even her White Diamonds perfume — 20 years on the market, and still the best-selling celebrity-created perfume in the world.
But the lasting legacy of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, who died today at the age of 79, may very well be her post-acting career: a quarter-century of opening minds (and wallets) to help AIDS research and those living with HIV.
The American Foundation for AIDS Research, better known as amfAR, paid tribute (above) to its founding international chairman at a gala event last month in New York. Today, it commented on her passing:
Dame Elizabeth was without doubt one of the most inspirational figures in the fight against AIDS. She was among the first to speak out on behalf of people living with HIV when others reacted with fear and often outright hostility. For 25 years, Dame Elizabeth has been a passionate advocate of AIDS research, treatment and care. She has testified eloquently on Capitol Hill, while raising millions of dollars for amfAR. Dame Elizabeth’s compassion, radiance, and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed by us all. She leaves a monumental legacy that has improved and extended millions of lives and will enrich countless more for generations to come.
GLAAD also acknowledged her fearless championing of gay rights and AIDS awareness, leveraging her personal brand to fight for equality at a time in her life when she very well could have retired from Hollywood, and the limelight — particularly given her medical woes in recent years.
"Today, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community lost an extraordinary ally in the movement for full equality," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. "At a time when so many living with HIV/AIDS were invisible, Dame Taylor fearlessly raised her voice to speak out against injustice. Dame Taylor was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve."
The Human Rights Campaign, in a statement to CNN, also praised Taylor's work as an AIDS activist:
"We are deeply saddened by the death of Elizabeth Taylor. Ms. Taylor was a true ally to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. She was one of the first public voices to speak up about the AIDS crisis while many others stayed silent in the 1980s and she helped raise millions of dollars to fight the disease. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family, and to all those whose lives have been positively impacted by the life and work of Elizabeth Taylor."
Michel Sidibe, executive director of the UN AIDS program, tweeted: "The AIDS movement has today lost a true friend and supporter of people living with #HIV and affected by HIV. RIP Elizabeth Taylor."
Magic Johnson, the NBA legend and former LA Laker who is also HIV-positive, tweeted: "Elizabeth, thank you for all your help in the battle against HIV and AIDS. You will be missed by the world."
Before she devoted her life to her work as a humanitarian and advocate, she was best known as a two-time Academy Award-winner whose film career spanned more than half a century, a feat for which she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000.
As the New York Times' obituary notes today, she always refused offers to write an autobiography, famously telling one publisher: "Hell no — I'm still living my memoirs."
Turner Classic Movies is planning a 24-hour Taylor movie marathon and on-air tribute to her on April 10th. Here's how another late Hollywood legend — Paul Newman — paid tribute to her for an earlier TCM homage: