The one who got away?
While many men may have dreamed of marrying the legendary Elizabeth Taylor, photographer Firooz Zahedi says there was a brief moment in his 35-year friendship with the star when it just might have been possible had he not missed his cue.
Zahedi, who captured Taylor in his new book of stunning images –My Elizabeth – tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, that a tabloid report about him and Taylor planning to wed in 2006 led to a misunderstanding with his close friend.
"I have no idea how it came about," Zahedi recalls of the rumors of their engagement. "I was taking my mom to a doctor somewhere in Virginia, and my agent in L.A. called me up and says, 'The magazines are all calling about you getting married to Elizabeth Taylor.' I first thought he was playing a joke on me so I hung up and [then] I was laughing about it."
But the Hollywood rumor was exactly that – a rumor.
"I called Elizabeth, and I said, 'So I hear we are getting married.' And she said, 'Yes, I heard the same thing.' I responded, 'So when is this going to take place?' "
Although they joked at first, soon the gossip began to trouble him.
For more on Elizabeth Taylor's surprising hidden life, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Zahedi explains he didn't want to embarrass Taylor or cause her to think he was the one who started the rumor.
He says: "I called up Elizabeth's publicist and I told him, 'You have got to do something about this.' And he laughed and said, 'We've already got a quarter of a million dollars for the wedding photograph.' "
Still, Zahedi says, "I kept insisting they do something about it. I was trying to reach Elizabeth and I wasn't getting through to her and I was wondering, 'Is she really upset about this? What is going on?' The next thing I read is a quote from Elizabeth saying, 'No, Firooz and I are good friends. There has never been any romance between us.' "
Although Taylor wasn't upset about the rumor itself, Zahedi says, she did tell a mutual friend she was upset that he felt so strongly about denying the story.
"I kept trying to reach Elizabeth to discuss this, and finally I got her, and I said, 'I am so sorry about all of this – because there is always this ridicule about older actresses, older society ladies going out with a younger guy," he told her.
And she said, 'What is wrong with me marrying someone younger than myself?' It suddenly dawned on me. What is wrong with an older woman marrying a younger man? So we made up and I came back to L.A. and we just resumed our friendship the way it was."
The last time he spoke to Taylor before her death in March 2011, they were mulling a Christmas Eve outing.
Zahedi fondly recalls how they joked about going to Vegas to wed.
"And she gave me one of those cackling laughs of hers and said, 'No way, Buster.' Like, you had your chance – and you blew it."
Proceeds from the book benefit The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.