Thursday, March 24, 2011
Others can write of her beauty, talent and exciting personal life, but for the HIV/AIDS and LGBT communities, Elizabeth Taylor had a special place in our hearts. The death of this legendary actress rightfully has caused grief in our communities. Elizabeth Taylor gave us voice when most were silent. She stood defiantly by our side when most hid from our struggle. The actress fearlessly used her access and fame to shine light on our epic struggle. Our communities would be hard put to find a more deserving heroine and ally than Dame Elizabeth Taylor.
Of course, after her illustrious film career which began as a child star in National Velvet, she is best known for her work in battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When her beloved Giant co-star Rock Hudson came down with HIV/AIDS, the actress swung into action. AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) was planning its first dinner in 1985 and she was instrumental in getting it off the ground. With the assistance of then Los Angeles Times Society Columnist Marylouise Oates, former First Lady Betty Ford and philanthropist Wallis Annenberg, the two-time Oscar winning actress threw herself into making the evening the most star-studded event in Hollywood up to that time. On September 19, 1985, her star power and efforts created the first million dollar fundraiser for APLA. Just under a month later her longtime friend, Rock Hudson passed away.
Elizabeth Taylor created the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation to battle the disease in 1991. Just in that entity alone she raised over $12,000,000 to help in the treatment, care and protection of people with HIV/AIDS. The list of organizations that received grants from her Foundation is endless. In addition, she became the spokesperson for American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR) working almost daily with Dr. Mathilde Krim on an effort to discover promising therapies, a cure and a vaccine. She raised millions for the organization.
More importantly than raising funds, she gave visibility to the epidemic and its deadly reign of terror. In the mid-1980's Americans were living in fear of AIDS. They wanted to quarantine or even tattoo people with HIV/AIDS. Undertakers wouldn't bury people, doctors wouldn't treat them, people would not have the ill to their homes and a hysteria took place in the nation. Elizabeth Taylor, at great risk to her career, stood visibly and powerfully by our side. She attended our events, visited the AIDS wards, embraced people with HIV/AIDS and refused to be intimidated by public sentiment.
Using her access to President Reagan through his wife Nancy, she behind the scenes worked night and day to finally in Washington, DC have the President of the United States attend an AMFAR Dinner and speak about HIV/AIDS for the first time in seven years. There wasn't a famous person that she knew who at some time did not receive a call from her demanding their participation in fighting the epidemic. She was relentless.
Personally, I had met her a number of times very casually at different events or meetings fighting HIV/AIDS. My most significant interaction with on February 26, 1994 when AMFAR bestowed Clint Black, her and me with awards at their dinner in Los Angeles. We had a few private moments alone. She was relaxed and in our conversation she said to me after hearing that I had lost hundreds of friends to the disease, "How do those of us left survive this? What are we supposed to do with our pain?" She paused and then with her famous tinkly laugh said, "Oh hell, we don't have any choice. Lets make them cry tonight and get their money."
This video was created by TCM and is a tribute to Dame Elizabeth Taylor from the now deceased actor Paul Newman. It is just lovely.
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