Elizabeth Taylor, who died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at age 79, led nothing if not a full life. The great beauty starred in dozens of films, from National Velvet to Cleopatra, earned five Oscar nominations, won two Academy Awards, married eight times, and, later in life, became a noted AIDS activist. Commentators are reflecting on Taylor's life and legacy. Here, a sampling:
She was so much more than beautiful: Taylor "was the most fleshly of actresses," says Dana Stevens at Slate. "Unlike many great onscreen beauties, who seem like nervous guardians of the treasure nature has bestowed upon them, Elizabeth Taylor... reveled in her pulchritude." She had an "extravagant and freely displayed appetite" for food, men, jewels, and drink, and that was part of made her "so mesmerizing" to watch.
"Elizabeth Taylor, RIP"
Her confidence was startling: "What Taylor had was something oddly rare in the annals of movie stars: certainty," says David Edelstein in New York. "However frail or neurasthenic or ravaged she appeared, she needed no one else to tell her she was a star."
"Edelstein on Elizabeth Taylor"
And yet she was delicate: "What made her great was her enormous sensitivity and grace, particularly evident in the way she connected with the most fragile of actors," especially Montgomery Clift, whom she starred in three films with, including A Place in the Sun, says Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline. "Her voice has a fluttery softness, the sound of a butterfly's beating wings magnified a thousandfold."
"In praise of Elizabeth Taylor: Fierce in her very softness"
What a woman! "To me, Elizabeth Taylor's importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen," says Camille Paglia, as quoted by Salon. "It was rooted in hormonal reality," and her "natural lustiness and spontaneity" stand in sharp contrast to the "skeletal, Pilates-honed, anorexic silhouette" that is the dominant look for women in Hollywood today. "If Gwyneth Paltrow were growing up in the 1930s, she would have been treated as a hopelessly gawky wallflower who would be mortified by her lanky figure."
"Paglia on Taylor: 'A luscious, opulent, ripe fruit!'"
Taylor was a survivor: Unlike another great, scandalous-affair-having beauty of the time, Marilyn Monroe, Taylor survived, says Manohla Dargis in The New York Times. "And it was that survival as much as the movies and fights with the studios, the melodramas and men (so many melodramas, so many men!) that helped separate Ms. Taylor from many other old-Hollywood stars." Truly, she was the last real movie star.
"Movies, men, melodramas: A lust for life"