Elizabeth Taylor Dies of Congestive Heart Failure After Decades of Health Battles

VIDEO: Elizabeth Taylor describes what she saw during seven minutes of not breathing.PlayABCNEWS.com
WATCH Elizabeth Taylor on Near-Death Experience

While Elizabeth Taylor will be remembered as a movie legend and tireless AIDS advocate, the two-time Academy Award-winning beauty often received just as much press for her health ailments as she did for her films and advocacy work throughout her seven-decade career.

The actress died today at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, after being hospitalized for six weeks with congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Taylor has suffered ongoing health problems for several years and has appeared frail, and often confined to a wheelchair, in public appearances and photographs.

But her recent hospitalization came on the heels of a life riddled with as many health issues as there were romances.

While acknowledging that she has wondered why she has suffered so many physical setbacks, Taylor told Larry King in a 2001 interview that she hoped to gain a lesson with each sickness or near-death experience she had throughout life.

"Each time that I have almost died, while I have been recuperating and not quite knowing whether I was going to make it or not, you have time, plenty of time," Taylor said in the interview.

"Even an hour is plenty of time when you don't know whether you are going to live or not," Taylor continued. "And you think: Why did I make it? …There must be some reason that God wants me to live. There must be something left for me to do. And I have to find out what that something is and go out there and do it!"

It was on the set of one of Taylor's earliest films, the 1944 movie "National Velvet," that seemed to start a life of injuries, sickness and recuperation. Taylor suffered her first major injury at the age of 12, when she fell off her horse and injured her back.

Near-Death Experience

Taylor reportedly had a near-death experience in the 1950s during a surgical procedure, where the actress said doctors pronounced her clinically dead.

In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Taylor opened up about the incident, explaining that she went to "the other side," and found her third husband, Mike Todd, waiting for her.

"I don't fear [death] because, when I was on the other side, like in the tunnel, and was with Mike [Todd], it was so beautiful and warm and the light was so welcoming and I held on to him and he said you have to go back," Taylor said in the interview. "You have things to do and I'll be here."

"Adjusting to life again was like learning to walk all over but then I started appreciating sounds and colors, music, and I thought, 'my God! I've taken all this for granted and it's so incredibly beautiful,' and it made me cry and I thought 'thank you, God,'" continued Taylor.

Back to Life; Not without Health Ailments

In 1960, the 28-year-old beauty fell ill with pneumonia and had to receive a tracheotomy. Many people, including Taylor herself, believed that she received the Academy Award that year for her role in "Butterfly 8" because of public sympathy for her respiratory condition.

And after a particularly overwhelming time of erratic relationships and deaths of several friends, including James Dean, rumor had it that the actress nearly died after attempting suicide with sleeping pills in 1962.

Two decades later, Taylor shocked her fans when she checked herself into the Betty Ford Clinic in California for treatment of alcohol addiction in 1983. She later required treatment for prescription drugs, as well.

But despite a history of painkiller abuse, prosecutors found that three doctors over-prescribed pain medication to ease her back pain in 1990. The case was eerily similar to that of her good friend, Michael Jackson's, ongoing medical investigation into his death.

"The records reveal Taylor has suffered from substance abuse for many years, principally involving pain medication and alcohol," a medical expert said in a report issued by the Los Angeles district prosecutor's office.

That same year, Taylor came down with viral pneumonia and underwent lung surgery. She relapsed in 1992.

And in the five years that followed, Taylor had two hip-replacement surgeries and one surgery for a benign brain tumor. After falling in her Bel Aire home on her 66th birthday, Taylor also suffered a compression fracture in her lower back. Later in 1999, the actress fell again and reinjured her back.

And three years later, she was treated with radiation therapy for basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.

In 2004, Taylor summed it up by telling W Magazine, "My body's a real mess. If you look at it in the mirror, it's just completely convex and concave."

But, in the same interview, Taylor revealed that she is not afraid to die.

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

That same year, Taylor was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She had been in and out of hospitals, and in and out of the tabloids documenting her rumored health, ever since.

In October 2009, Taylor took to her Twitter to explain to fans a heart procedure that she would undergo. She said the surgery was "very new and involved repairing my leaky valve using a clip device, without heart surgery so that my heart will function better."

Advocate of HIV/AIDS

While Taylor will be remembered as a legendary actress who embodied old Hollywood glamour, she stood for much more. Since the mid-1980s, Taylor was known as a tireless advocate for HIV/AIDS. Her work began with fundraising for an AIDS Project Los Angeles dinner, the first major AIDS benefit ever held. And, in October, 1991, Taylor founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, an organization that provides funding to AIDS service organizations throughout the world to assist those living with HIV and AIDS.

Taylor has testified before Congress in support of the Ryan White CARE Act, the U.S.'s largest federally funded program for people living with AIDS. The Act was created in honor of Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS through a tainted hemophilia treatment. White was expelled from school because of the disease.

The actress also spoke before the National Press Club and addressed the United Nations General Assembly on World AIDS Day.

Just Wednesday, Taylor tweeted a newly published Harper's Bazaar article, where reality star Kim Kardashian sat down and chatted with the legend.

In the interview, Taylor said: "I have been supremely lucky in my life in that I have known great love, and of course, I am the temporary custodian of some incredible and beautiful things."