AIDS activist legend Elizabeth Taylor dies

Acting legend Elizabeth Taylor, who put her own reputation on the line in order to help people with AIDS at a time, in the 1980s, when society was deeply afraid of the disease, died of congestive heart failure Wednesday, March 23, at a hospital in Los Angeles. She was 79.

Taylor was a close friend of closeted gay actor Rock Hudson, who became one of the first high-profile people with AIDS in 1985. In addition to standing by his side, Taylor helped establish the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) to raise money to help with what was then a very anemic attempt to search for a cure.

Taylor’s legendary status inspired participation by many –politicians, celebrities, and corporations—to contribute to AIDS research and to pressure the government to step up its own response, under then President Ronald Reagan. According to AmFAR’s website, the organization has raised more than $325 million to support AIDS research.

AmFAR issued a statement Wednesday, honoring its founding international chairman. Taylor, said the organization, “was without doubt one of the most inspirational figures in the fight against AIDS.”

“She was among the first to speak out on behalf of people living with HIV when others reacted with fear and often outright hostility,” said the statement. “For 25 years, Dame Elizabeth has been a passionate advocate of AIDS research, treatment and care. She has testified eloquently on Capitol Hill, while raising millions of dollars for AmFAR. Dame Elizabeth’s compassion, radiance, and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed by us all. She leaves a monumental legacy that has improved and extended millions of lives and will enrich countless more for generations to come.”

Taylor won two Academy Awards for Best Actress—in Butterfield 8 in 1960 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966. She also won enormous popularity for her roles in such classics as Cleopatra and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as well as Giant, a feature in which she starred with Hudson and James Dean.

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