March 25, 2011 — -- To some, it seemed odd: why would one of Hollywood's golden age glamour queens pal around with a pop music star more than 20 years her junior?
"He has been hurt by so many people," she told ABC News' Barbara Walters in 2002. "I think I'm the only person in his life that has not betrayed him."
Taylor and Jackson began on an off note: she walked out of one of his concerts, and he called her almost in tears. She assured him that she left because of bad visibility, not a poor performance. What was meant to be an apologetic phone call turned into a three-hour conversation and ultimately, a more than three decade long friendship.
More than anything else, Taylor linked their friendship to their accelerated upbringing. She became a star at 12 with "National Velvet;" he at eight with The Jackson 5. In a 1997 interview with Walters, Taylor said, "One of the reasons I think Michael Jackson and I are so close [is] because neither one of us had a childhood, and we can relate to that and wonder at how we got by."
While Taylor and Jackson occasionally made appearances together in public -- at the movies, at AIDS benefits, at the 1993 American Music Awards -- much of their relationship remained private. But she vocally supported him when he was accused of child molestation in 1993 and 2005. She flew to Singapore in '93 to help him cope with the first case; in 2003, after Jackson was arrested on child abuse charges, she defended him and blasted the press.
"I believe Michael is absolutely innocent and that he will be vindicated," she said in statement. "[The media's] whole reaction is that he is guilty. I thought the law was 'innocent until proven guilty.' I know he is innocent and I hope they all eat crow."
When Jackson turned to prescription drugs to deal with the ensuing criminal investigation and lawsuit, Taylor made him seek treatment. Having gone to the Betty Ford Center in 1988, she felt she was in a unique position to help.
"He wasn't aware of what was happening," she told ABC News' Diane Sawyer in 1995. "He was dulling his pain, but it really frightened me, because I have been there and I know how easy it is to get there when you're in mental or physical pain."
In 2003, she stood by his side when he was arrested and charged with child molestation and intoxicating a minor. Even after Jackson was acquitted on all counts at his 2005 trial, Taylor continued to push back at the public perception of Jackson as a pervert.
"I've been there when his young nephews were there and we were all in the bed watching television there was nothing abnormal about it," Taylor said on "Larry King Live!" in 2006. "There was no touchy-feely going on."
While she spoke up for him, he shelled out for her. Jackson indulged in Taylor's love of jewels, giving her diamond bracelets, watches and necklaces. He allegedly promised her a $600,000 piece of jewelry for allowing footage of her to be used in the 2003 TV special "Michael Jackson's Private Home Movies."
He sang, too. In 1997, Jackson presented Taylor with the exclusively written-for-her song "Elizabeth, I Love You", performed at her 65th birthday party.
And he made her part of his family: Taylor served as the godmother for Jackson's eldest children, Paris Michael and Prince Michael.
But he was generous before he needed her as an ally. In 1991, Taylor married her last husband, construction worker Larry Fortensky, on Jackson's sprawling Neverland Ranch. The ceremony featured A-list guests including former President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, the drone of paparazzi and police helicopters, and hot air balloons Jackson launched in an attempt to drown out their noise.
Jackson's 2009 death floored Taylor. She took to Twitter to mourn. "My heart...my mind...are broken," she wrote the day after he died. "I loved Michael with all my soul and I can't imagine life without him. I don't think anyone knew how much we loved each other. The purest most giving love I've ever known. Oh god! I'm going to miss him."
She absented herself from Jackson's star-studded, media-thronged funeral, tweeting, and "I just don't believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others. How I feel is between us. Not a public event. I cannot be part of the public hoopla. And I cannot guarantee that I would be coherent to say a word."
After his death, Taylor continued to stick up for Jackson, though not as publicly as she had in the past. (To be fair, she wasn't much of a public personality in her final years.) Last May, she went on Twitter to chastise Dr. Arnold Klein for talking to the press about Jackson. (Taylor, like Jackson, was a patient of the Beverly Hills dermatologist.)
"I thought doctors, like priests took an oath of confidentiality," Taylor tweeted. "May God have mercy on his soul."
That devotion followed her to her grave. On Thursday, Taylor was buried at Glendale, Calif.'s Forest Lawn Cemetery, the same cemetery where Jackson is entombed.