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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 01:37 GMT
Hollywood's favourite Dame

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1975

As one of the world's most celebrated actresses, Dame Elizabeth Taylor is no stranger to receiving accolades.

Her newly acquired title comes after a film career spanning five decades, 70 films and some 5,000 awards - including two Oscars.

All things considered, I'm damned lucky to be alive
Dame Elizabeth Taylor
Famously violet-eyed, glamorous and feisty, Dame Elizabeth has also long been considered one the world's most beautiful women - and loved by some of the world's most high-profile men.

She has become one of the greatest doyennes of Hollywood as much for turbulent private life as her acting.

Whether it be her battle with her weight and ill-health, her eight marriages, campainging for research into Aids, or friendship with pop superstar Michael Jackson, Dame Elizabeth has rarely been out of the headlines.

Reflecting philosophically on her chequered life recently, she said: "Everything was handed to me. Looks, fame, wealth, honours, love.

"But I've paid for that luck with disasters, the deaths of so many good friends, terrible illnesses, destructive addictions, broken marriages.

"All things considered, I'm damned lucky to be alive."

Dame Elizabeth's life has seen both tragedy and success
She was born in London on 27 February 1932 to American parents who had long been resident in the country.

As soon as she could walk, the young Elizabeth was heading for the spotlight as she first took up ballet. By the age of three she was dancing with her class in front of the royal family.

As World War II loomed, the Taylors decided to return to the US where they settled in Los Angeles in 1939.

The move set the young Elizabeth on the road to stardom. Although aged just 10, she was already striking and was soon spotted by studio executives and in 1942 she was cast in her first movie - There's One Born Every Minute.

The following year she was signed to MGM on a contract that was to last until the early 1960s. In the decade that followed, she blossomed and shot to fame as the 12-year-old star of the showjumping movie National Velvet.

Dame Elizabeth in 1996: Rock Hudson's death turned her into an Aids campaigner
The film was the making of Dame Elizabeth's movie career and she was soon to make Courage of Lassie, A Date With Judy and Little Women in 1949.

In her personal life, she blossomed early too, beginning her string of high-profile relationships by first dating millionaire Howard Hughes at the age of 17.

She married hotelier Nick Hilton before she was 18, although it lasted only a few months. In 1952 she married actor Michael Wilding, but they divorced in 1957. Then she went onto marry flamboyant showman Mike Todd - converting to Judaism for the occasion. But Todd died in a plane crash just a year later.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Dame Elizabeth was one of the most popular and prolific actresses of the day, starring in classics like Giant with James Dean, Cat on Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman, and Cleopatra.

In 1960, she won a Best Actress Oscar for her part in Butterfield 8. Her second Oscar came in 1966, for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Her marriage to Larry Fortensky lasted five years
Starring alongside her was Richard Burton, the man who remains, in many people's minds, as Dame Elizabeth's long-time love. The two met three years earlier on the set of Cleopatra, where sparks flew and they started an affair.

They married in 1964, within 10 days of her divorcing her fourth husband Eddie Fisher, and for the next decade the good-looking duo travelled the world and became two of the world's best-loved celebrities.

But the marriage was also highly volatile. After several well-publicised separations, reconciliations, a divorce and remarriage they finally redivorced for good in 1976.

As her film roles dwindled, Dame Elizabeth used her fame to promote cosmetics and raise millions of dollars for Aids research. She also became more visible on TV, starring in several films made for the small screen, including the American civil war mini-series North And South.

With close friend Michael Jackson
It was during the filming for the series that she aggravated a longstanding back injury - which started when she fell on the set of National Velvet.

The injury has dogged her throughout her life and exacerbated her generally fragile health.

The birth of her fourth child, Liza, left her unconscious for four days and prevented her having more children. A rare strain of pneumonia nearly killed her in 1961.

She had battled with her weight since the 1970s but in the 1980s, her growing reliance on painkillers and alcohol saw her balloon.

Her ill health intensified in the 1990s, when she endured two hip replacement operations and another near-fatal bout of pneumonia.

But despite her own suffering, Dame Elizabeth has had the energy to campaign for Aids research, becoming the celebrity face of the crusade against the disease after the death of her close friend Rock Hudson.

In October 1991, she married for the eighth time - to construction worker Larry Fortensky - in an opulent ceremony in the grounds of the ranch owned by pop megastar Michael Jackson - a close confidante and kindred spirit. The marriage ended in 1996.

In April 1999, Dame Elizabeth returned to London for the first time in seven years to be acclaimed by the British film industry and awarded Bafta's Fellowship Award for a lifetime of achievement in the film industry.

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  Entertainment
Trio of Dames lead showbiz honours
12 Apr 99 |  Entertainment
A Taylor-made award

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