APLA Remembers Elizabeth Taylor

By Jeff Katza

March 23, 2011

Among the many statements on Dame Elizabeth’s passing today, this one from AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA)stood out because of what turned out to be a record-setting partnership that began in 1985. Find out what Elizabeth Taylor accomplished so many years before others would even try:

Elizabeth Taylor’s incredible commitment to HIV & AIDS advocacy can’t be commended enough, but we just heard from the folks over at APLA and found out just how ahead of her time Taylor was when it came to supporting the AIDS community. Back in 1985, the actress began a partnership with the Southern California AIDS organization and created the first ever Commitment to Life event. According to APLA, that event 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,” APLA’s executive director Craig E. Thompson said. “We’re simply devastated by her loss.”

For Taylor, the fight against AIDS became personal while she and her publicist worked in the first months of 1985 to organize the inaugural Commitment to Life event, when she learned 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 tirelessly to pack the Bonaventure Hotel for the gala, calling on famous friends and Hollywood elite to throw their name and face behind the cause. The evening would go on to raise $1.3 million—a shocking (in the best way possible) result!

Think about that: More than $1 million for AIDS—IN 1985?! Unimaginable!

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 Cher, Sammy Davis, Jr., Burt Lancaster, Cyndi Lauper, Shirley MacLaine, Rod Stewart and Stevie Wonder.

Of course it is well documented that Taylor would go on to create amFAR and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, yet she still continued to support APLA.

“Today, we’ve lost one of the boldest advocates our community has seen,” Thompson said, “but her tremendous impact lives with us.”