Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born on February 27th, 1932, at Heathwood, her family's home on 8 Wildwood Road in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. She received dual citizenship at birth, as her parents, were United States citizens. They moved to London in 1929.
The Taylors decided to return to the United States in the spring of 1939 due to the increasingly tense political situation in Europe. In early 1940, her father opened a new gallery in Los Angeles, and after briefly living in Pacific Palisades, the family settled in Beverly Hills, where Elizabeth and her brother were enrolled in Hawthorne School.
In Los Angeles, Elizabeth's mother was frequently told that her “beautiful” daughter should audition for films. Taylor's eyes in particular drew attention; they were blue to the extent of appearing violet, and were rimmed by dark double eyelashes. Her mother was initially opposed to Elizabeth appearing in films, however she was given a film contract by Universal Pictures. Her screen debut was in a minor role in ‘There's One Born Every Minute’ (1942), but Universal terminated her contract after a year. She was then signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and had her breakthrough role in National Velvet (1944). She later called it “the most exciting film” of her career helping her to become one of the studio's most popular teenage stars.
When Elizabeth turned 15 in 1947, MGM began to cultivate a more mature public image for her by organizing photo shoots and interviews which portrayed her as a ‘normal’ teenager attending parties and going on dates. She made the transition to adult roles in 1950, the year she turned 18. Her first mature role was playing a woman who begins to suspect that her husband is a Soviet spy in the thriller Conspirator (1949). Elizabeth was only 16 at the time of its filming, but its release was delayed until March 1950. Despite being one of MGM's most bankable stars, she wished to end her career in the early 1950s, as she resented the studio's control and disliked many of the films to which she was assigned. By the mid-1950s, the
American film industry was beginning to face serious competition from television, which resulted in studios producing fewer films and focusing instead on their quality. The change benefited Elizabeth, who finally found interesting roles after several years of career disappointments.
Elizabeth Taylor was raised as a Christian Scientist, but converted to Judaism in 1959, taking the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel, during this year she owed one more film to MGM, which it decided should be BUtterfield 8 (1960), a drama about a high-class prostitute. The studio correctly calculated that Taylor's public image would make it easy for audiences to associate her with the role. She hated the film for the same reason, but had no choice in the matter, although the studio agreed to her demands of filming in New York and casting Eddie Fisher in a sympathetic role. As predicted, BUtterfield 8 was a major commercial success.
After completing her MGM contract, Taylor starred in 20th Century-Fox's Cleopatra (1963) - a historical epic which, according to film historian Alexander Doty, made her more famous than ever before. She became the first actress to be paid $1 million for a role; Fox also granted her 10% of the film's profits.
By the late 1960s, her career was in decline. She had gained weight and was nearing middle age, and did not fit in with the new generation of stars, such as Jane Fonda and Julie Christie. The three films in which Taylor acted in 1972 were somewhat more successful.
From the mid-1980s, she acted mostly in television productions. She made cameos in the soap operas Hotel and All My Children in 1984, and played a brothel keeper in the historical mini series North and South in 1985. During the 1980s she also began receiving honorary awards for her career, the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1985 and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Chaplin Award in 1986.
Taylor was the first celebrity to create her own collection of fragrances. In collaboration with Elizabeth Arden, Inc., she began by launching two best-selling perfumes, Passion in 1987 and White Diamonds in 1991.
Taylor was one of the first celebrities to participate in HIV/AIDS activism, helping to raise more than $270 million for the cause during her lifetime. She began her philanthropic work in 1984, after becoming frustrated with the disease being widely discussed, but nobody was doing anything about it. Taylor founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1991 to raise awareness and to provide support services for people with HIV/AIDS, paying for its overhead costs herself.
Her last theatrically released film was in the critically panned but commercially very successful The Flintstones (1994), in which she played Pearl Slaghoople in a brief supporting role. Taylor received American and British honors for her career: the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1993.
In 2005, Taylor also founded a jewellery company, House of Taylor, in collaboration with Kathy Ireland and Jack and Monty Abramov.
Elizabeth Taylor's personal life was subject to constant media attention throughout her life. She was married eight times to seven men, had four children, endured serious illnesses and led a jet-set lifestyle. After many years of ill health, Elizabeth Taylor died from congestive heart failure at the age of 79 on March 23rd 2011 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, after being hospitalized six weeks earlier. Her funeral took place the following day at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. It was a private Jewish ceremony presided over by Rabbi Jerome Cutler, and at Taylor's request began 15 minutes behind schedule, as according to her representative, “she even wanted to be late for her own funeral”. She is entombed in the cemetery's Great Mausoleum.
After her death, her jewellery and fashion collections were auctioned by Christie's to benefit her AIDS foundation, ETAF. The jewellery sold for a record-breaking sum of $156.8 million, and the clothes and accessories for a further $5.5 million. Elizabeth Taylor collected jewellery throughout her life, and owned several notable pieces, such as the 33.19-carat (6.638g) Krupp Diamond, the 69.42-carat (13.884g) Taylor-Burton Diamond and the 50-carat (10g) La Peregrina Pearl, formerly owned by Mary I of England - all three were gifts from husband Richard Burton.