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Elizabeth Taylor Diva, Dame, Saint

By Bradley Tranor

April 6, 2011

The beloved actress took a risk in championing HIV/AIDS activism a quarter-center ago during the conservative Reagan Era.

Elizabeth Taylor was more than an icon to the gay community. She was truly a living saint. Her tireless, pioneering, oft-unfashionable work in the fight against the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic was quite remarkable and beyond inspirational. Here's a look at her contributions over the past quarter-century.

1985

Taylor begins a partnership with the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), and with the help of her publicist, Chen Sam, organizes its inaugural Commitment to Life fundraiser, which brings in $1.3 million.

"I remember complaining, ‘Why isn't anybody doing anything? Why isn't anyone raising money?' And it struck me like lightning: ‘Wait a second, I'm not doing anything.'"

1985

Taylor and Dr. Michael Gottlieb found the National AIDS Research Foundation. The organization merges with the AIDS Medical Foundation to become amfAR. Since its creation, amfAR has invested nearly $325 million into research.

"Celebrity is not something that comes without responsibility….If I can help further a worthwhile cause simply by lending my voice, I feel that it is my place to do so."

1986

Taylor testifies before Congress on behalf of the Ryan White bill, begging for a funding increase for emergency care in areas hardest-hit by the AIDS epidemic.

1989

Taylor travels to Thailand, where AIDS was beginning to take a heavy toll. She is photographed shaking hands with a person with AIDS in a Bangkok hospital. The photograph, distributed worldwide, helps counter the stigma of the disease.

"I decided that with my name, I could open certain doors, that I was a commodity in myself—and I'm not talking as an actress. I could take the fame I'd resented, and tried to get away from for so many years—but you can never get away from it—and use it to do some good. I wanted to retire, but the tabloids wouldn't let me. So I thought, ‘If you're going to screw me over, I'll use you.'"

1990

Taylor testifies before Congress, urging passage of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act of 1990. The act becomes law, ensuring that low-income, uninsured, and underinsured people living with HIV/AIDS have access to treatment.

"I don't think President [George H.W.] Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS….In fact, I'm not even sure if he knows how to spell ‘AIDS.'"

1991

Taylor founds the The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) to help provide much-needed support services for people living with HIV/AIDS and prevention education for at-risk communities. She personally underwrites all expenses for raising and administering the foundation's funds.

1993

The Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center is built and named in Taylor's honor at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, DC, to provide HIV/AIDS testing and services free-of-charge.

1993

Taylor receives the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her HIV/AIDS work.

2000

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain names Taylor a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in honor of her contribution to film and her fight against HIV/AIDS.

2005

The Elizabeth Taylor Endowment Fund for the UCLA Clinical AIDS Research and Education (CARE) Center is established at the University of California Los Angeles.

"It's still out there. It is still a pandemic. It has not slowed down. I know people have forgotten. They take things for granted -- especially the young people."

2007

Taylor and actor James Earl Jones give a benefit performance of the play Love Letters that raises $1 million for ETAF.

"Just giving the use of your name doesn't really mean anything. You have to be physically involved, be a participant, and show up and make yourself a part of the organization."