Elizabeth Taylor's Legacy: AIDS' First Famous Advocate


"If it weren't for homosexuals there would be no culture," she said. "We can trace that back thousands of years. So many of the great musicians, the great painters were homosexual. Without their input it would be an entirely different, flat world. To see their heritage, what they had given the world, be desecrated with people saying, 'Oh, AIDS is probably what they deserve' or 'it's probably God's way of weeding the dreadful people out,' made me so irate."

The organization, amfAR, wasn't the only way Taylor sought to stop the spread of AIDS. In 1991, she established the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. (Prior to her death, the foundation had raised more than $12 million.) In 1992, at the Eighth International Conference on AIDS, Taylor took a swipe at then-president George Bush for not making the disease part of his agenda.

"I don't think President Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS," she said. "In fact I'm not even sure if he knows how to spell AIDS."

As Taylor's health faltered, AIDS events were often the few occasions that found her out in public.

"Acting is, to me now, artificial," she told The Associated Press at the dedication of UCLA's AIDS Research and Education Center in 1995. "Seeing people suffer is real. It couldn't be more real. Some people don't like to look at it in the face because it's painful. But if nobody does, then nothing gets done."

She added a signature quip:

"There's still so much more to do. I can't sit back and be complacent, and none of us should be. I get around now in a wheelchair, but I get around."

Taylor attached herself to AIDS before it was trendy for celebrities to take up causes. She risked her career and her life because of it.

"People not only slammed doors in my face and hung up on me, but I received death threats," she told Interview magazine in 2007. "When I tried to put the first fundraiser together, people would say, 'No, I'm not getting mixed up in that!' And, 'You have to get out of this, Elizabeth. It's going to ruin your career.'"

Of course, that didn't happen. And yet, despite her numerous accolades (two Oscars included), on Wednesday, many of those close to Taylor called her memorable because of her AIDS advocacy, because of the work she did that set her apart from the pack.

"It wasn't just her beauty or her stardom," Barbra Streisand said in a statement released Wednesday. "It was her humanitarianism. She put a face on HIV/AIDS."

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