“Nothing will raise your self-esteem as much as helping others. It will make you like yourself more and make you more likable. We can’t all be Mother Teresa, but each of us can try to make our little corner of the earth better.”
From the moment she stepped foot on Hollywood soil, Elizabeth Taylor became a crowning glory of the film industry. She received two coveted Academy Awards for her performances in Butterfield 8 ( 1960 ) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ( 1966 ) as well as attaining the industries top honors, but the role in which she wanted to be remembered for was her prolific work as a humanitarian.
The legendary Elizabeth Taylor was known the world over for her generosity and her incredible gift of giving. The actress who skyrocketed from a beloved child-star into one of cinema’s most beautiful women eventually became the face of charity and was often seen fundraising for different charitable events.
Elizabeth Taylor found great satisfaction in helping others and always made sure that her charitable work took precedence over motion pictures, but the question that many people ask is how did a successful movie star become so involved in charity? Although discipline and benevolence had been instilled in Elizabeth since a young age, her story only really started in 1956 while she was filming Giant opposite Rock Hudson.
Giant was made at a time when Elizabeth Taylor was yearning for a career resurrection. After being cast in a few box-office failures that did nothing to enhance her popularity, Taylor was desperate to be put back on the radar. When the script for Giant came in her direction, Taylor instantly knew that the role of Leslie Lynnton Benedict would save her from debris, so she lobbied director George Stevens until she obtained the part.
This was the perfect career move for Elizabeth Taylor. Not only did Giant rescue her from a descending film decline, it also formed an inseparable friendship that would ultimately make motion picture history.
As soon as the two starts met, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson were inseparable. The core of their strong connection is said to be fueled from the roots of gratitude. Forever thankful that Hudson was the instrumental force behind her attaining the part, Taylor was always in his presence. Whether they were on or off the set they spent quality time together, often dining out and drinking their favorite beverage, Chocolate martini’s.
Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson epitomized the true meaning of friendship. The special bond that these two Hollywood greats shared encompassed the entire movie set and continued into the proceeding years. Sadly their journey ended in heartache when Rock Hudson died from AIDS in 1985, leaving an emotionally distraught Elizabeth desperately wanting to get to the core of the dreaded disease that killed her close friend.
Rock Hudson’s death left Elizabeth incensed with the lack of support and knowledge about this newfound disease. She was appalled by everyone’s inactivity when it came to helping those victims suffering from AIDS, but then it suddenly dawned on her. She too was laying idle, and there was absolutely no excuse for her. She had the power and was in the position to fight the stigma that was attached to the virus.
Realizing that she was just like everyone else, Elizabeth immediately sprung into action and transcended her acting career to fully commence her rewarding journey as an avid humanitarian. Her first venture was the AIDS Project Los Angeles’ Commitment to Life dinner that was held in September 1985. For extra support she rallied her friends to volunteer their time to the event, but when they all refused, Taylor was once again engulfed with bigotry and discrimination.
Later that year she joined forces with Dr. Mathilde Krim and formed the American Foundation for AIDS Research, in which she became the organizations first national chairman. Her commitment was phenomenal and her dedication in helping those suffering alone could not be usurped. Sally Morrison of amfAR stated, “Elizabeth’s participation was great for the scientists, the people fighting at the lab bench and at the bedside. It’s very demoralizing work. Then she shows up. It’s very meaningful to them.”
As an actress Elizabeth was unparalleled, but her work as a humanitarian left an indelible mark on society. During the years she fought endlessly to find a cure for AIDS related diseases, and eventually all her hard work paid off. Progress was gradually made and through further developments, treatments and medicines were hitting the markets. Schools were starting to place emphasis on sex education. Elizabeth once said, “It’s our moral responsibility to educate people about safe sex. People shouldn’t stop having sex—I’d be the last person in the world to advocate that—but safe sex is important.”
The years, 1986, 1990, and 1992 were busy for Elizabeth. It was during those twelve months that she testified before the Senate and House for the Ryan White Care Act. In 1987, she persuaded Ronald Reagan to address the disease for the first time in a public announcement, but usually when politics was concerned, Elizabeth Taylor was known to denounce presidents like George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton for their lack of interest and support in the subject matter. At the Eighth International AIDS Conference she told the audience, “I don’t think President Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS. In fact, I’m not even sure if he knows how to spell AIDS.”
In the years that Elizabeth Taylor had been working as a philanthropic she had managed to bring a disease that was so overshadowed to the forefront, but despite her significant contributions she had made, Elizabeth was unsatisfied by her efforts. She felt she weren’t doing enough to extinguish the disease, and so in 1991 she opened the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in support of those sufferers who were in need of proper patient care.
Her mission was to ensure that each seriously ill individual benefit from the money raised. Her foundation was not established to help other organizations. She was there to support the needs of those unfortunate victims who were suffering from the disease. Elizabeth often stated, “The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation researches all the requests. We weed them out, and find out about their overhead. If their overhead is exorbitant, I don’t give them money because I know it’s going into somebody’s pocket. My foundation is for the individual. I want the money to get to the sick who can’t get out of bed.”
The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation was not just for the victims however. She also helped support other charitable organizations including, Caring For Babies With AIDS, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, LIFE, and Mother Saradadevi Social Service Society as well as funding, support education, condom giveaways, and needle exchange programs.
“Remember always to give. That is the thing that will make you grow.”
The praise she received was gratifying, but for Elizabeth the most crucial aspect of her charitable endeavors was meeting and corresponding with those suffering from AIDS. Having someone of Elizabeth Taylor’s stature visit them was a dream come true for these people. They idolized her for helping them find courage, and she remained their pillar of strength. On the other hand however, Elizabeth sometimes found her face to face time with the victims extremely heartbreaking. She would often walk into rooms to discover almost lifeless people whose bodies were ravaged by the disease. Witnessing cases like these emotionally disturbed Elizabeth, but it piqued her interest in fighting more.
Further along on the journey, the disease that Elizabeth Taylor continuously fought, hit close to home when many of her close friends died from AIDS or AIDS related illnesses. The most heart-aching for her was when her former daughter-in-law, Aileen Getty approached Elizabeth with the news of her diagnosis. Getty later stated that her family displayed no remorse and sympathy for her, but Elizabeth on the other hand was profoundly empathetic and understanding. “Without the love of Elizabeth Taylor in my life, I would probably be dead—if not physically, most certainly emotionally.” Getty said.
“There’s still so much more to do. I can’t sit back and be complacent, and none of us should be. I get around now in a wheelchair, but I get around.”
After witnessing heartbreaking situations like this, Elizabeth continued to remain dedicated to her work. In fact, observing cases like these only fueled a greater interest in trying to change people’s perspective and stopping the stigma. Even in ill health, Taylor spent days trying to combat the disease, but as time progressed the surrounding bigotry was still evident. In 2006, Elizabeth Taylor commented, “It is still a pandemic. It has not slowed down. I know people have forgotten. They take things for granted—especially the young people, between 15 and 24. There is an entire generation of sexually active teenagers who have lived their entire lives in a world where the cocktail of drugs has allowed those with AIDS to live relatively normal lives—but it is this ignorance that is continuing to kill so many around the world. And in developing countries around the world, the people who require these drugs simply cannot afford them. “We have a map at amfAR that blackens out areas of the world where AIDS has killed. If you could see how completely out of control it is in Africa, Asia, and India. It is spreading so rapidly. It’s frightening,”
The work that Elizabeth Taylor engaged herself in is remarkable. With every avenue she followed she achieved greatness. When her health was rapidly deteriorating a wheelchair bound Elizabeth inspired generations by her unselfishness and towering generosity when she donated a $500,000 mobile medical HIV/AIDS care unit for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The following year on World AIDS Day she returned to the stage to raise one million dollars for the disease.
Elizabeth Taylor and her extensive resume of charitable endeavors is beyond compare. It’s been seven years since Elizabeth passed away, but millions worldwide continue to follow her ingenious trail of artistry that she left behind. During her time on earth, she became the face of AIDS and fought endlessly to come to a positive resolution. She visited sick children in hospital and often helped fund their visits. She saved the lives of dogs and cats when danger was in her path, and she aided the homeless in finding housing or shelter. Whatever philanthropic duty there was, Elizabeth was involved with it. The gist of the story is that Elizabeth was the essence of inspiration, compassion, generosity and kindness. She embodied all that and so much more. There will never be another Elizabeth Taylor.