The actress with the violet eyes captured LGBTs first with her grace and beauty and then with her unstoppable AIDS activism
Old queens worldwide will likely be watching Cleopatra, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf this weekend as they drink cocktails and weep.
Elizabeth Taylor, the greatest superstar of all time — and a world-renowned friend of the LGBT community and loving godmother to people who suffered and died from HIV infections — has passed away from congestive heart failure at the age of 79 in a Los Angeles hospital.
Her children issued a statement saying that the world had been a better place as a result of her living in it. And that is an understatement.
Her Oscar-winning contributions to entertainment and charity were phenomenal.
At the age of 10, I would go to the grocery store with my parents and immediately rush to the magazine rack to grab copies of the latest Hollywood gossip rags featuring Elizabeth Taylor, the reigning queen of Hollywood. I loved reading about the triumphs, tragedies, scandals and excesses of her life, and I adored and supported her throughout them.
At the time I had no way of knowing that I was gay, and that as such, I was one of those people she often embraced and befriended, long before it became fashionable to do so.
But I did know there was something different about me that made me sympathetic to her love affairs and life in general that shocked conservative people.
When the AIDS epidemic struck in the early 1980s and Elizabeth Taylor’s good friend Rock Hudson later became one of the early victims of it, she proved how brave and loyal a friend and humanitarian she could be.
The most beautiful and glamorous movie star of all time commanded the kind of clout that drew international attention, inspired others to follow suit and revolutionized public opinion. Without her help, I can’t imagine that we would be where we are today in terms of education, research and treatment of HIV infections.
While others reacted with fear and hatred as the epidemic raged, she spoke out on behalf of HIV patients and urged compassion.
Elizabeth Taylor’s reach was phenomenal. About five years ago I intended a charity benefit for the Disciples of Trinity in Dallas that provides help to terminally ill people. She had sent an autographed photograph to the charity for it to sell in a silent auction.
I was determined to leave the party with the photograph that night and I did — about a hundred dollars later.
Her generosity extended to many charities, and because of that and her work promoting HIV research, she received France’s Legion of Honor in 1987 and Queen Elizabeth made her a dame in 2000.
She also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars in 1993 and the President’s Citizens Medal from President Clinton in 2001.
The Elizabeth Taylor Foundation for AIDS that she underwrote evidently will live on, as her children have asked for anyone wanting to send flowers to instead make a donation to the charity that bears her name.
I had always hoped I would get to meet Elizabeth Taylor one day. The closest I ever got was to seeing her at a public appearance to promote her perfume “Passion” at NorthPark Centre in 1987. I also saw her footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and the gates of her estate in Bel Air, and I’ve toured her former villa in Puerto Vallarta.
I console myself with the knowledge that everyone has a final curtain call to make, and it was time for hers. It was a brilliant performance.
And although she is gone she will live on in my memory and millions of other fans. I’ll be one of those old queens watching her movies this weekend.
David Webb is a veteran journalist who has written about LGBT issues for more than two decades. He is a former Dallas Voice staff writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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