On October 10, 1975, Elizabeth Taylor secretly remarried her ex-husband Richard Burton. Infamous for their tumultuous love affair, the celebrity couple’s relationship is still legendary. Taylor’s enchanting beauty and controversial love life set off the modern day paparazzi age. Additionally, the famous violet-eyed actress was ahead of her time thanks to her many subversively feminist roles and philanthropic AIDS activism in the 1980s.
Before Taylor met Burton in 1962 on the Rome set of “Cleopatra,” she was already an established movie star and sex symbol with a scandalous reputation as a “home-wrecker.” The British-American starlet infamously “stole” her fourth husband, Eddie Fisher, from Debbie Reynolds. Welsh-born actor Burton was a known ladies man even though he was married. Although married to other people, they still couldn’t resist their sizzling chemistry together. Their first kiss was when they filmed a scene as their characters, Cleopatra and Marc Antony. “Cleopatra” was called “the most talked about movie ever made” thanks to their legendary love affair and the film’s exorbitant cost, an unprecedented $37 million. After a photo of the couple yachting made the tabloids, the nascent paparazzi industry trailed them nonstop. The Vatican was so scandalized by the affair that they sent an open letter to Taylor admonishing her for “erotic vagrancy.”
After divorcing their respective partners in 1964, the glamorous pair married at the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal that same year. Their exchange of nuptials began what many consider “the marriage of the century.” As a married couple, their relationship was textbook tumultuous. They even rented three suites – one above and another below their own – when they checked into hotels to buffer the sound of their fighting. However, during their first marriage, they managed to make 11 films together, including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” (1966) and “The Taming of the Shrew” (1967). In June 1974, the couple divorced, only to secretly re-marry on October 10, 1975 in Botswana, Africa. In keeping with their rocky relationship, they split up less than a year later in 1976. However, the pair still couldn’t stay apart, even spending Taylor’s 50th birthday together in 1982 and starring in a Broadway play together in 1983. A few days before Burton died in 1984, he had written a letter expressing his desire to get back with Taylor. Their infamous relationship even hit the small screen as the subject of Lifetime’s 2012 movie, “Liz & Dick.”
Aside from providing a steady stream of content for celebrity magazines, Taylor spent her career playing emotionally charged characters that often challenged gender stereotypes. Although the actress did not consider herself a feminist per se, she played her fair share of empowered women. Whether it was in “National Velvet” (1944) where her character dealt with gender discrimination in horse racing or in “A Place in the Sun” (1951) that dealt with birth control rights, Taylor portrayed characters whose challenges echoed many women’s issues championed by today’s feminist movement.
When her good friend and fellow actor, Rock Hudson, died of AIDS in 1985, Taylor became a vocal philanthropist for what had been a silent killer in the 1980s. She created The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991 to help save other lives from the deadly disease.
Although Taylor died in 2011 from congestive heart failure, her legacy endures. Taylor once said, “I adore wearing gems, but not because they are mine. You can’t possess radiance, you can only admire it.” With her breathtaking beauty and larger than life persona like the gems she loved, Taylor possessed a radiance that we still admire to this day.