Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor: From Burton to diamonds, we cared

“You can’t possess radiance, you can only admire it,” Elizabeth Taylor once wrote.

She said it about gems. But it was true of her life as well.

Elizabeth Taylor died this morning of congestive heart failure at the age of 79, provoking a vast outpouring of emotion from the millions she touched with her sensational personal life and captivating on-screen presence — or was it a sensational on-screen presence and captivating personal life? For Liz Taylor, the two were always intertwined.

Her longevity, in an industry that is not kind to women as they age, was astounding. It was the result of a tangled alchemy, the combination of her talent, which was considerable, her beauty, which was breathtaking, and her willingness to be vulnerable, on-screen and off.

She was Dame Elizabeth, the once and future Mrs. Richard Burton, married and remarried eight times to seven men. “I’m a very committed wife,” she once said. “I should be committed, too, for being married so many times.”

She wasn’t the first star to give candid access to her personal life. But she was one of the first and the last in whom we had such a real stake. Stars nowadays are hot, gassy messes and orange-colored dwarves and blue giants. Liz was a real star — not only were her film presence and her personal life giant-sized, but she also was a celestial body who sparkled in the nighttime.

Before the Angelina-Brad-Jen triangle, there was Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor. What a change! Now we live in a world of glossy surfaces. But Liz was able to break through the surface to let us see real emotion and real beauty. Sure, we care about Brad and Angie, Jen and Lady Gaga. But if they’re around and inspiring this amount of love in 40 years, I’ll eat my meat hat.

We cared about Liz. And she cared about us, cementing her place in many hearts with her advocacy on AIDS.

As she passes, we remember a time when it was possible to be the cynosure of all eyes, before our attention fragmented into a million little pieces and our stars rose and fell on the strength of a day’s Googling. With her loss comes the end of an era when everyone talked about the same things and all heads turned the same way:

Toward Liz.

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