Today I’ve had one word going through my head: GEORGE! GEOOOOORRGE! It’s impossible to represent with letter and words and punctuation the raw emotion evoked when Elizabeth Taylor belched it from her gut in scene after scene of her Oscar winning performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. She was only 34 at the time, but she became a bitter, middle-aged alcoholic wife. She owned that movie. I’ve only seen it once, but the line still gives me chills. She delivered many fine performances, but that one sticks out in my mind.
She played another great role later in her life, one which I’m happy to see many obituaries acknowledging. She was one of the first public figures to give a voice to that terrible new disease that killed everyone who contracted it, that seemed to target gay men above all others, thus making it an unmentionable. Her friend Rock Hudson contracted the disease and she saw the film idol slowly fade away. Politicians, including President Ronald Reagan, said nothing. Other celebrities said nothing. But Dame Elizabeth said something, and said it loudly. Embodying the ACT UP rallying cry that silence equals death, she used her celebrity to bring attention AIDS and helped to create organizations, amFAR and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, to fight the disease and help those with it. The US and the world could ignore it no longer.
We can continue to enjoy her performances on DVD and streaming video. amFAR and ETAF will continue their work. Her legacy is secure. But Hollywood will never see the likes of her again. Rest in peace, Dame Elizabeth.
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