From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
She has become the Cleopatra of our age, a figure of beleaguered majesty. Destiny blessed her with beauty, money, husbands, diamonds, Oscars and mass adoration—and cursed her with 19 major operations, eight bone-shattering accidents, chronic back agony and decades of addiction to alcohol, junk food and painkillers. Five years ago, obese beyond recognition, she entered Rancho Mirage's Betty Ford Center and emerged a blazing beauty again. In 1988 she tumbled back into the nightmare of pain, pills and pounds—and then rallied to show the style that has made her American royalty.

The year began well. She published an upbeat book about how she detoxed and deflabbed, and in one night she raised $3 million to fight AIDS. But by July, clawed by back pain, she was reported gobbling Percodan tablets as if they were M&M's and washing them down with Bloody Marys. By October she was back in a hospital for all-out chemical warfare against her tortured back. Assaulted daily by Demerol, Percodan, Xanax, Zantac, Ativan and Tylenol with codeine, the pain abated—but the pills that drove it away drove her back to the Ford clinic. "With all the drugs she's absorbed," a staffer said, "she's a female version of Elvis—and you know what happened to him."

And then, while she was in deep withdrawal, her 92-year-old mother, Sara Taylor, checked in to the same hospital complex, "near death" from bleeding ulcers, and Liz had two lives to fight for. She was permitted to visit her mother every day, and she made each trip a star turn. Beforehand, she spent an hour getting coiffed and groomed. "She would never go out without darkening her eyebrows," said an attendant. "Unpenciled, they look like little tufts of cotton." And as she was wheeled through the drab halls, she held herself like a queen being borne in splendor past her awestruck subjects. "Bloat and all," said a friend, "she is still the ultimate superstar. Still Elizabeth Taylor."