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Actress Elizabeth Taylor Dead at 79

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Known first as the young star with the stunning violet eyes, then the sensual but talented performer with a penchant for marriage, then a tireless crusader in the fight against AIDS, actress Elizabeth Taylor has died. She was 79. Taylor died of congestive heart failure this morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, after six weeks of hospitalization.

Taylor was born in England in 1932 to American parents, and her affection for Britain held her whole life, though she carried dual citizenship. As a child, her stunning eyes and lashes made her stand out on film, and her delight in performing prompted her parents to put her in showbiz. She was signed to Universal in 1941, and the following year to MGM, where she emerged as a teen star. Her breakout adult role was in the 1950 comedy Father of the Bride, co-starring Spencer Tracy.

The actress had great critical success in the mid- to late 1950s: Taylor was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Raintree County (1957), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958, and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). One of her most iconic roles to date came in 1960: Cleopatra. "In the public's mind, she was the dark goddess for whom playing Cleopatra, as she did with such notoriety, required no great leap from reality," says the LA Times. She won two Academy Awards for her work in the 1960s, for BUtterfield 8 (1960) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Taylor also became infamous for her many marriages over her lifetime. She was married to her first husband, hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, for less than a year. She married Michael Wilding, Michael Todd, Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton (twice), John Warner, and Larry Fortensky. With the exception of Todd, all of her marriages ended in divorce.

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Though Taylor continued acting through the 1970s and 80s and occasionally in more recent years, she remained in the public eye thanks to her perfume creations, her jewelry designs, and her work to fight AIDS. She helped form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and started her own AIDS organization, the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation (ETAF), through which she has raised and donated millions of dollars.

Taylor was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2004, and other medical ailments in her last years. She made few public appearances, though she did come out to support her longtime friend Michael Jackson during his 2005 trial. Her last stage appearance was in 2007, for a special benefit performance of A.R. Gurney's play "Love Letters.

Elizabeth Taylor is survived by sons Michael and Christopher Wilding, daughters Liza Todd and Maria Burton, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.