By Gabriel McGowan
March 24, 2011
McGowan is the director of communications for AIDS Project Los Angeles.
AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) deeply mourns the death of actress and HIV/AIDS advocate Elizabeth Taylor today. Taylor launched a second career as an AIDS activist in 1985 when she organized APLA’s first “Commitment to Life” event, which would go on to become the biggest AIDS fundraiser in history.
“It’s impossible to overestimate Elizabeth Taylor’s impact on the fight against AIDS from the very beginning,” said APLA Executive Director Craig E. Thompson. “We’re simply devastated by her loss.”
For Taylor, the fight against AIDS became personal from the start. While she and her publicist worked in the first months of 1985 to organize the inaugural “Commitment to Life” event, she would learn that her friend and co-star Rock Hudson was dying of the disease.
Despite – and because of — widespread silence within the entertainment community, Taylor worked to pack the Bonaventure Hotel for the gala, which raised $1.3 million. More than 2,500 attended, and Taylor took the stage to present the first Commitment to Life award to First Lady Betty Ford. Among the attendees were Abigail Van Buren, Cher, Sammy Davis, Jr., Burt Lancaster, Cyndi Lauper, Shirley MacLaine, Rod Stewart, and Stevie Wonder.
Taylor was honored at the following year’s Commitment to Life gala, and the event continued annually for more than a decade, raising millions for APLA’s work in Los Angeles.
Her AIDS activism reached far beyond entertainment circles and into the political arena, as well. In 1986, she co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and testified before a U.S. Senate Committee in support of federal funding for HIV care and treatment.
In 1991, she launched the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which continues to provide funding for HIV and AIDS programs globally, including those at APLA.
Taylor herself remained a fierce advocate for HIV-related work. She appeared as recently as 2009 on the stage of Macy’s and American Express Passport in Los Angeles – another annual event that she helped found, which has raised more than $28 million for AIDS organizations, including APLA, over its three decades.
“Today, we’ve lost one of the boldest advocates our community has seen,” Thompson said, “but her tremendous impact lives with us.”
AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), one of the largest non-profit AIDS service organizations in the United States, provides bilingual direct services, prevention education and leadership on HIV/AIDS-related policy and legislation. With more than 25 years of service, APLA is a community-based, volunteer-supported organization with local, national and global reach. For more information, visit apla.org.
© 2011 LASTAGE Alliance