Elizabeth Taylor's Latest Health Crisis

The glamour icon has led a life full of near-death experiences.

October 7, 2009, 1:00 AM

Oct. 7, 2009 -- Actor and Hollywood glamour icon Elizabeth Taylor sent out a message on Twitter Tuesday, telling her fans that she is going in for heart surgery and requesting prayers.

The operation is "very new and involves repairing my leaky valve using a clip device, without open heart surgery so that my heart will function better," the tweet read.

The laparoscopic operation that Taylor, 77, will undergo is, indeed, experimental.

"It's called MitraClip," says Dr. Edward Verrier, professor of cardiovascular surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle. "It's an unproven but new technology that's being introduced as a potential alternative to open-heart surgery."

The procedure is considered less invasive than traditional open-heart surgery. Less invasive surgery means fewer variables in the operating room, such as heart and lung machines.

As for her chances, "That's very individual." Verrier said. "She could have a lot of medical conditions only she and her doctors know about."

In her seven decades, Taylor has had her share of medical problems, debilitating conditions, painful injuries and freak accidents.

She has had anywhere from 30 to 40 surgeries, according to biographers.

Her battle with her body began on the set of one of her earliest films, the 1944 classic film "National Velvet." During one of her horseback riding scenes, she fell, injuring her back.

In 1960, she became ill with pneumonia and had to undergo a tracheotomy. She believed, as did her rivals for the Academy Award that year, that it was public sympathy for her near demise that garnered her the gold statuette for "Butterfield 8."

"She can't just have an illness," her co-star in the 1956 film "Giant" told the London Times in 2000. "She has to be Camille on her deathbed. "

The tabloids have mercilessly covered her battle with her weight. The actress, who is about 5-feet-2-inches tall, has weighed as much as 180 pounds and has gone up and down.

In 1983, Taylor checked herself into the Betty Ford Clinic in California for treatment of alcohol addiction. She would later require treatment for addiction to painkillers.

In 1990, in a case eerily similar to that of her her friend Michael Jackson, prosecutors found that doctors had over-prescribed pain medication to ease her back pain, a medical expert said in a report.

"The records reveal Taylor has suffered from substance abuse for many years, principally involving pain medication and alcohol," the report said.

No charges were ever filed against the doctors.

Taylor Not Afraid to Die

She nearly died in 1990 from viral pneumonia and underwent lung surgery. Taylor, a longtime advocate for AIDS patients, released a statement denying she had the disease when rumors began to get out of hand.

She suffered a relapse in 1992.

In 1994 and, then, in 1995, Taylor underwent hip-replacement surgery.

In 1997, she underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor.

In 1998, on her 66th birthday, Taylor fell in her Bel Aire, Calif., home and suffered a compression fracture in her lower back. A year and a half later, she took another fall and reinjured her back.

She underwent radiation therapy in June 2002 to treat basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.

In November 2004, Taylor was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

"My body's a real mess," Taylor told W magazine in 2004. "If you look at it in the mirror, it's just completely convex and concave."

In May of 2004, however, she went on "Larry King Live" to deny that she was at death's door.

"I think they're trying to sell magazines," she said. "Some audience out there ... they like scandal. They like filth. And if they want to hear that I'm dead, sorry folks. I'm not. And I don't plan on it."

She told W magazine she is not afraid to die.

"Really, I'm not," she said, "because I've been there."

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