It's hard to believe today that Elizabeth Taylor is dead. It's almost even harder to believe how old she was. Seventy-nine. Seventy-nine!
That beautiful little girl cuddling with a horse on National Velvet that we see in our mind's eye beat the life expectancy of the average American (78.4), and she fought every single minute to get there. Looking at her age today, Taylor's legacy isn't just in her movies. It's in her inspiring refusal to never, ever let her body get her down.
National Velvet, Cleopatra. They're on your lips today. But I can't help thinking of her book (one of a string of celebrity self-help titles that were popular in the '80s), Elizabeth Takes Off. It sold a gazillion copies before being forgotten by women who moved on to the next big thing. But I wonder if it wasn't so popular at the time because Taylor revealed how "real" she was to American women. She was vulnerable in that book, confessing how she ballooned to 180-plus pounds during her marriage to Virginia Senator John Warner (first it was the bad food on the campaign trail, then the realities of eating through the boredom as she adjusted to being a politician's wife in D.C. instead of an actress).
The child star was out of Hollywood and out of her element, and yet she was proud of who she was. She fought off the weight the way she fought skin cancer and a brain tumor. The way she dealt with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that she was born with, creating what she admitted was a "bad back" even in her teenage years.
Even when she was the shining light of beauty and health to American moviegoers, she was always one of us. And looking at her life today, I can't help hoping she's who more of us will aspire to be as we age. She's an inspiration to fight, as Dylan Thomas said, "against the dying of the light." Because Taylor saw that light fizzling, and she refused to give up.
As the child actress told W Magazine just a few years ago, "my body's a real mess," but she continued to fight the congestive heart failure that claimed her life for seven years. She continued to give interviews. She continued to fight AIDS. She continued to LIVE -- even wheelchair-bound because of that bad back.
Elizabeth Taylor's body betrayed her, but she didn't let it win. Can you think of a better legacy for American women?
Image via cliff1066/Flickr