Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story, a two-part miniseries on the life of Elizabeth Taylor aired on NBC twenty years ago this week, on the evenings of May 21 and 22, 1995. It isn’t regarded very highly among Elizabeth Taylor fans but it has a great deal of significance for me: It inspired my lifelong love affair with Elizabeth Taylor and started me on a journey that I could never have anticipated.

I was eight years old at the time and had never heard of Elizabeth Taylor before—or if I had, the name didn’t register as I sat down to watch TV that evening. While channel surfing I stopped on Liz and sat mesmerized as her story unfolded before me. I had a strict bedtime and couldn’t stay up to watch the entire first part so I set the VCR to record what I would miss. The following night, when part two aired, I didn’t even bother to wait to record the portion I would miss when bedtime came around again—I wanted every second recorded for posterity. Looking back I have tried to understand what it was about her story that resonated with my eight year old self. Perhaps even at that young age I was able to recognize her ability to triumph against adversity time and again. She was, and always will be, the ultimate Hollywood survivor.

I was hooked and from that moment on I had to get my hands on everything Elizabeth Taylor related that I possibly could. I scoured libraries, book stores, the magazine racks (at this time she was still the tabloid’s number one star and probably would have been for the remainder of her life had her health not declined), and video stores. I convinced my mom to sign up for the Doubleday Book Club so I could have a copy of the recently published biography, Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor by C. David Heymann, the book that served as the basis of the NBC miniseries. (I can only imagine the looks on people’s faces at my brother’s baseball games as I toted that tome around; it was my Bible and didn’t leave my side that entire summer.) I wrote down every film she ever appeared in in my journal and set to work watching her films. I quickly exhausted Elizabeth’s “family friendly” roles at the video store and progressed to her more adult roles. My grandmother’s attempt to suggest to my mom that Giant may be too mature for me was in vein; I pestered my parents’ until I had my very own copy. I even chose Suddenly, Last Summer once for family movie night. (I think that choice effectively put an end to that family ritual.)

Later that summer my family moved. I was forced to leave behind all my friends and that September, when the new school year started, I found it difficult to make new ones. But at least I had Elizabeth as a refuge, and for that I will always be grateful.

In June 2001 I established an online Elizabeth Taylor discussion group which later spawned the creation of this website, The Elizabeth Taylor Archives, in 2005. While my friends and family have always been so good about indulging me in my love of Elizabeth Taylor, it’s been exciting to meet other people from all over the world who are just as passionate as I am and the greatest byproduct has been the friendships I’ve made as a result. It’s funny how little Elizabeth actually comes up in conversation. We’ve been there for one through the death of loved ones, sharing in each other’s good times as well as bad. We talk books and movies, and exchange recipes and talk about current events. As one of them mentioned in many ways they watched me grow up, make mistakes, graduate university and even and move abroad for a time. It’s hard to articulate what these friendships have meant to me but I’m certain these individuals know that they have a very special place in my heart. I wonder if Elizabeth knew just what a “connector” she was in the lives of people she didn’t know?

For a longtime I thought it was a forgone conclusion that I would never have the opportunity to see my idol in person. Her health issues meant that her public appearances became increasingly rare, but all that changed the evening of November 10, 2005. I learned that she would receive the BAFTA/LA Britannia Award for Artistic Excellence in International Entertainment. I flew from Toronto to Los Angeles in the hopes of catching even a fleeting glimpse of her. Reports that she was on her deathbed had been circulating for weeks in the tabloids and I was nervous that I had flown all that way for a no show. You can imagine my astonishment when, seated at my table at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, I turned around and my eyes met hers—I was staring into the movie’s most fabled eyes, and the Krupp diamond shone like an orb on her finger. The only word I could summon was, “Hi!”, with I’m sure was a stunned look on my face. She beamed at me and replied, “Hiiii!” in that unmistakable voice of hers, and off she went to accept her award. I was on cloud nine for weeks. Two years later, on World AIDS Day 2007, I was fortunate enough to attend her one night only performance in A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters alongside James Earl Jones. The evening raised one million dollars for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and would mark the last time she would ever act, onstage or off. Everyone in that theatre felt as though we were witnessing history.

So, twenty years after I first sat down to watch that TV film, I want to thank Elizabeth Taylor for all that she has given me. So many of my passions can be traced back to her—my love of classic film, theatre, books, and travel. She has brought into my life so many wonderful people who have become family. Her example in the fight against AIDS has taught me that it’s our responsibility to stand up to injustice and help others. And one maxim of hers that I try to adhere to daily is that to live an authentic life you must do it on your own terms. Few people have proved that more than Elizabeth Taylor.

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2 Responses to 20 years

  1. Topperlove says:

    I was 8 years old too when I “met” Elizabeth Taylor. Who knew that that extraordinarily loving and giving woman would give so much beyond her talents as an actress? Through you, Andy, and her, I’ve met some of my closest and dearest friends. Thanks for turning your beautiful obsession into a gift that will last a lifetime.

  2. Philip Smith says:

    Wonderful story!! She was a STAR!! I am a little older at four my Mother took me to see “Cleopatra” From that moment I was forever a Fan. Thank you for sharing!!

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