Still, if the legacy that Taylor leaves began with the first of her more than 50 movie performances and endured during her battles with ill health (she had nearly 40 surgeries, ranging from hip replacements to the removal of a brain tumor) and multiple divorces, it was cemented by her extraordinary contributions as a humanitarian and activist.
She became an early advocate for AIDS victims, but her friend Rock Hudson's death from the disease galvanized Taylor. She co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR) in 1985, served as its founding national chair, and helped the organization raise more than $260 million. "When Elizabeth Taylor stood up for this cause, no one else was standing up for this cause," AmfAR spokesperson Deborah Hernan told PBS. "People didn't know how you caught [HIV], didn't know what to do about it. Some people thought it was what some people deserved, and there was no one who was willing to be [the cause's] champion except Elizabeth Taylor."
The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, formed in 1991, has has also distributed millions of dollars to AIDS organizations internationally. For her humanitarian work, Taylor was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999, causing the star to wisecrack: "I've always been a broad, now I'm a dame." In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal in recognition of her commitment to philanthropy.
And though, save for an occasional Larry King interview – and to Tweet her recent hospital visit as involving "repairing my leaky valve using a clip device, without open heart surgery, so that my heart will function better" – she mostly withdrew from the public spotlight in recent years, Elizabeth Taylor remained a presence, a talent that is not likely to escape her, even in death.