A Fond Farewell to Liz Taylor

From her unbreakable bond with Michael Jackson to her dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS to some of her more controversial moments, Liz Taylor won't be forgotten.

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The term "movie star" is easily tossed around these days. Anyone who is a consistent cover girl on Us Weekly can be deemed a movie star, but very few of the starlets of 2011 can compete with the true divas of yesteryear: Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Marilyn Monroe and, one of the originals, Dame Elizabeth Taylor. Yesterday we lost Taylor, the last great Hollywood star. As the cliché goes, it's an end of an era.

After years of medical problems, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor died on March 23 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at the age of 79. Born in London in 1932, she became a superstar at only 12 years old with 1944's National Velvet. She won two Oscars, married eight times and is best known for films such as Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Butterfield 8 (1960) and 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Most important, Taylor was a ferocious advocate in the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially after her close friend Rock Hudson died of complication from AIDS. At a time when President Ronald Reagan refused to mention the disease on camera, Taylor single-handedly used her celebrity to lead the charge for HIV/AIDS awareness before it was en vogue.

"La Liz" refused to be a damsel in distress or a casualty of Hollywood. Unlike Judy Garland, Monroe and Dandridge, she wouldn't let the good old boys in suits make her another Tinseltown tragedy. Taylor was a survivor -- a star since childhood -- which must have been a huge reason that she bonded with the late, great Michael Jackson. My first memory of Taylor is seeing her in Michael Jackson's "Leave Me Alone" video.

It was peculiar, yet made sense; neither of them had had a childhood, and they were both tabloid fodder. Taylor was always a front-row supporter of Jackson, even through the most trying of times. She stood by her friend when other celebrities remained silent. When Jackson passed away in June 2009, Taylor was rumored to be on suicide watch. She said in a statement, "My heart ... my mind ... are broken. I loved Michael with all my soul, and I can't imagine life without him."

Taylor, with her much hyped love life, was no stranger to controversy. In 1963 she starred in the biopic Cleopatra, and it has always been an issue for me that a woman of color was not selected to play an African queen. In the earlier stages of the film, Dorothy Dandridge was considered for the role. To this day, Cleopatra remains melanin-less on the silver screen, with Angelina Jolie set to star in an updated version of the biopic.

I had always refused to watch Cleopatra. I didn't want to sit through Hollywood's monstrous misuse of history. But I recently watched the Joseph L. Mankiewicz-directed film for the first time, and surprisingly, I became transfixed. Forgetting the politics, it was as if Taylor had magically put a spell on me via Turner Classic Movies. Her presence was ferocious, her look mesmerizing, and I said to myself, "Now, that is what you call a movie star."

Rest in peace, Dame Elizabeth Taylor. I just hope they don't stop airing those White Diamonds commercials during the holidays. You know Christmas has arrived when you hear La Liz say, "Not so fast, von Ryan!"

Clay Cane is a New York City-based journalist. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter.

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