For the Love of Liz

updated 03/29/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

IT'S NOT AS IF ELIZABETH TAYLOR HAS ever lacked for attention. Despite the 13 years since her last major U.S. feature film (The Mirror Crack'd), she has endured as Hollywood's most famous recidivist bride, perfume huckster, AIDS crusader and friend to the famously friendless. (Really, Oprah, Michael is "the least weird man I've ever known.")

But even with 54 films and two Oscars (for 1960's Butterfield 8 and 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) to her credit, it has been a long lime since La Liz enjoyed a place in the sun for her acting. Which may be why the American Film Institute decided to honor the 61-year-old actress on March 11 with its Life Achievement Award and a black-lie, $l,000-a-plate dinner at L.A.'s Beverly Hilton Hotel. Among those on hand to share the rays: Michael Jackson, George Michael, Ross Perot and more than 1,000 friends and family members. Carol Burnett, the evening's host, told of a casting director who'd once written, "The child has nothing. Her eyes are too old, and she doesn't have the face of a kid." Joked Burnett: "I don't think he's here this evening."

The tribute, to air on ABC in May, interspersed clips from Taylor movies with accolades from onetime co-stars including Roddy McDowall, Michael Caine and Angela Lansbury, who played Liz's older sister in the 1944 film National Velvet. Naturally it was Liz herself, escorted by Husband No. 7, Larry Fortensky, who capped the show and its film-clip review with some Taylor-made charm. "It's so long since I've thought about myself as an actress," she confessed. "I, along with the critics, have never taken myself very seriously. But I wasn't all that bad, was I?"

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