Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Elizabeth Taylor. Silver Screen Legend. Died this morning. March 23, 2011. Ouch. That date sounds so...banal. So inappropriate. So odd. So unplanned. For a Hollywood matriarch. For a Hollywood beauty. For Liz Taylor.

They said it was congestive heart failure and that a good number of the American elderly die of the same disease. Further, they say that she was in the hospital for at least six weeks trying to overcome the effects of the illness. Evidently, her heart was too weak and too underconditioned at 79 to recover. She had previously wrestled with a brain tumor, skin cancer, a broken back, at least three hip replacements, pneumonia, and, of all illnesses, tuberculosis. In addition, she survived 8 failed marriages and had a bout with alcoholism. The lady was a champ, taking on more than her share of the abnormalities of the human condition in her full, eight decades. If wealth and popularity were her yin, then illness was the yang that struck a balance between the extremes of hedonism and morbid depression.

Who doesn’t remember Lassie Come Home? If you were in daycare like I was in the 1970’s, you saw it on the old movie film projector in the common room near the rows of toddler cribs after washing down an Oreo or Nutter Butter with tangy red Kool Aid. We watched it amongst the disinfecting smell of bleach and the faint smell of dirty kid bodies, right after Race to Witch Mountain or Bambi, depending on the rotation and which film reel was cooperative. Lassie was my hero like Sponge Bob is my son’s. For an intelligent sentient, you couldn’t beat man’s best friend. The dog actually knew when someone was in trouble, and he could communicate himself as clearly as if he were speaking English. Elizabeth starred in Lassie when she was 10. In addition to over 50 other movies, she starred in shows like General Hospital, North and South, and the Simpsons, actually being the only person ever to give Maggie, the baby Simpson, a voice.

And who doesn’t remember Cleopatra for which Taylor made $1,000,000, grossly trumping, as one journalist noted, the exorbitant  $150,000 Kennedy made each year as president? In 1963! In 1999 I taught Egyptian history to second graders for two years at a classical school and made the mistake of letting students watch Cleopatra. Being shot in the early ‘60’s, how was I to know that Taylor’s hotness uncomfortably transcended several decades actually generating guilt pangs within me for exposing children to that “classic” movie only to turn it off for conscious’ sake less than halfway through the portion I wanted to show them. I had to fast forward the movie to the “appropriate parts’ because Elizabeth Taylor was just too hot for the little boys, showing way too much perfectly white-washed skin, showcasing too many sultry glances that suggested more than motherly concern, elongating too much seductive dialogue, and reposing in too right of a position that amplified too many of her best curves. The little boys found her so captivating even though they found most of the movie was boring. What a beauty she was.

But most importantly to me, who can forget the sweet, mentoring relationship she had with the late Michael Jackson: Michael Jackson, the fatherless King of Pop, so thoroughly immersed in the music industry he could not recall a time in his life he was not in a studio? The Michael Jackson who was trumped by his older in age and privilege but who trumped the lot of them in his rise to fame. In his autobiography Moonwalk, Michael pays tribute to Elizabeth Taylor. Aside from Diana Ross who filled the functional role of mother, Elizabeth played the role of fairy godmother, advising Jackson on how to maintain his equilibrium in a cutthroat world where your family was deliberate in using you, where your fan base was fickle in allegiance, and the media was eager to take that photo, get a snippet of a story, and find you in that pose that would ingratiate the world to them at your expense. Liz Taylor was a refuge for the young Jackson and did not waver, even at his unfortunate, untimely death.

Her third and second to last tweet said of giving "Don't do it for yourself, because then it becomes selfish... Because then it becomes about yourself...which is wrong. Giving is to give to God. Helping is to help others" and "Every breath you take today should be with someone else in mind. I love you.” Ah, Elizabeth Taylor will be remembered for so much, but family, in the end, was the most important. Her children were with her when she passed! Who could ask for anything more?

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