By Tim Saunders on
Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor – who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 79 – will be remembered off-camera for her philanthropy, her spirit and her unceasing generosity.
The Oscar-winning actress was an activist for those with AIDS since the virus first appeared in the early 1980s, courting controversy by her support in the face of the stigma attached to AIDS at the time. She was one of the first celebrities to publicly stand up against the disease, fundraising for the first major AIDS benefit ever held – a dinner organized by AIDS Project Los Angeles.
She founded the National AIDS Research Foundation in the early 1980s, and in 1985 she helped found the American Foundation for AIDS Research – better known as amfAR. In February 2011, amfAR honored Taylor at its 25th Anniversary Gala. Although her health prevented her from attending, she sent a message via her good friend and fellow AIDS activist Elton John: “I am there in spirit and I join you in saluting my fellow honorees and all these extraordinary leaders. I am inspired by their example, exhilarated by their vision, and encouraged by their compassion and love. And I love them in return.”
Taylor’s AIDS work saw her address the General Assembly at the United Nations, and she was a huge supporter of Ryan White, the 18-year-old who died of the disease in 1990 after attracting a frenzy of media when he was expelled from his middle school because of the disease, which he contracted from a blood treatment for his hemophilia. At a time when AIDS was poorly understood by the world, Ryan helped reduce stigmas and raise awareness. Her work with Ryan White brought her into contact with one of her best friends, Michael Jackson.
Taylor founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991 to focus her efforts directly on those people living with the disease. To date, her Foundation has distributed more than $12 million to AIDS service organizations across the country.
Over the last 20 years, Taylor has worked tirelessly to fundraise and reduce the stigma that surrounds AIDS, and has been honored by a plethora of organizations that recognize her commitment to the cause. She was presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 1993 Oscars, named after screen actor Jean Hersholt, who served as the president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund for 18 years. She was awarded the Marion Anderson Award for her humanitarian work, named after the famous African-American opera singer who fought racial segregation in the 1930s, and earlier this year she was honored by the Women's Image Network. GLAAD has previously awarded Taylor with its Vanguard Award for people who have increased the visibility and understanding of the LGBT community, and her other honors include the French Legion of Honor, the Presidential Citizens Medal and she was also made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Her generosity never ceased – in 2006 donated an AIDS medical unit to the people of New Orleans, and she always featured in annual lists of celebrity giving. In 2009 she made a $100,000 donation to the Alliance for Christian Education, crediting Barack Obama for her inspiration.
Tributes are pouring in following Dame Elizabeth’s passing today, but perhaps Sir Elton John says it best: “We have just lost a Hollywood giant, but more importantly we have lost an incredible human being. Elizabeth Taylor earned her fame with her extraordinary talent as a young actress, making her first movie at the tender age of nine. She earned our adoration for her stunning beauty and for being the very essence of glamorous movie stardom. And she earned our enduring love and respect for her compassion and her courage in standing up and speaking out about AIDS when others preferred to bury their heads in the sand.”
Elizabeth Taylor will be sadly missed, but has left a charity legacy that will last forever.
Copyright © 2011 Look to the Stars