Elizabeth Taylor was an icon from the classical cinema, and her name is synonym with glamour and beauty. She was also a philanthropist who found purpose in her work as an outspoken activist for AIDS. Now, her granddaughters are making sure her legacy lives on through her AIDS Foundation.
Late Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor could command any room she entered thanks to her staggering beauty, glamour, and poignant personality.
Colorized film still of Elizabeth Taylor, late 1950s | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images
Although she was at the height on her fame during the ’50s and ’60s, the “Cleopatra” star left an impression in Hollywood that few artists could manage to replicate.
FROM FEMME FATALE TO ACTIVIST
With a career that lasted over six decades, Elizabeth Taylor’s influence went beyond the entertainment industry.
She made sure to use her voice and privileged position to raise awareness about several causes, especially the AIDS/HIV one.
Elizabeth Taylor Poses In An Old Film Still, circa 1955. | Photo: GettyImages
Taylor was appalled by the lack of action that the government and other entities were taking to fight the disease back in the ’80s. After losing her dear friend Rock Hudson to the illness, she decided to take a step forward and raise her voice to do something about it.
She told Vanity Fair:
"I decided that with my name I could open certain doors [...] I could take the fame I’d resented and tried to get away from for so many years and use it to do some good."
Promotional portrait of British-born actor Elizabeth Taylor, circa 1952 | Photo: GettyImages
PUTTING HER MONEY WHERE HER WORDS WERE
Taylor founded the National AIDS Research Foundation in 1985, and not too long afterward, she merged the foundation with Dr. Mathilde Krim’s AIDS foundation to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).
“I remember Dr. Krim saying, ‘I can’t get my friends to write a check with the word ‘AIDS’ on it!’ With Elizabeth Taylor, we suddenly had funds, media coverage, and understanding,” recalled Susan Martin, a publicist for Dr. Krim.
British born American actress Elizabeth Taylor, circa 1975 | Photo: GettyImages
Since amfAR was focused on fundraising and investigation, Taylor created a second non-profit in 1991, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF), to raise awareness, provide education and offer support and care services to people who had the disease.
Taylor spoke in the senate for the Ryan White Care Act on three occasions and chastised President Reagan for not speaking or even mentioning AIDS publicly.
She eventually persuaded him to speak about the disease at the 1987 AmFAR Awards Dinner in Washington.
Elizabeth Taylor at the 25th Anniversary celebration gala for Macy's Passport held at Santa Monica Airport on September 27, 2007 | Photo: GettyImages
FOUND HER PURPOSE
Taylor kept up the fight against AIDS throughout the rest of her life until she passed away on March 23, 2011, from congestive heart failure.
“[Our grandmother] was very proud of the way she became a voice for people who weren’t being heard, early on in the HIV fight,” Naomi deLuce Wilding said of her grandmother seven years after her passing and added:
“She was proud that she made people listen, of the effect that she had on President Reagan. She felt that she really had made a difference personally.”
Elizabeth Taylor attends the Macy's Passport 2008 Gala held at Barker Hangar on September 26, 2008 in Santa Monica, California | Photo: GettyImages
Taylor, also famous for her long list of love interests, had seven marriages and four children: two sons with Michael Wilding, Michael Howard and Christopher Edward; and one daughter, Elizabeth “Liza” Todd,” from her marriage to Mike Todd.
She also adopted Richard Burton’s daughter, Maria Burton, during their marriage.
Taylor had ten grandchildren total, and while most of them are working to keep her legacy alive in some way, Naomi deLuce Wilding and Laela Wilding, daughters of Michael, have taken front and center at the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
Naomi deLuce Wilding, Laela Wilding, Tarquin Wilding, Eliza Carson and Quinn Tivey attend the Positive Leadership Award reception at the Rayburn House Office Building on April 13, 2015 | Photo: GettyImages
MEET NAOMI AND LAELA
The sisters had a strikingly different relationship with their grandmother. Laela, a graphic designer, grew up in California, so she got to spend every summer with Taylor and visited nearly every weekend. Naomi, on the other hand, grew up in London and only saw Taylor over the holidays.
Now a fashion stylist and co-founder of the Wilding Cran Gallery in Los Angeles with her husband, Anthony Cran, Naomi says her grandmother had a strong influence in her life.
“More than anything, my grandmother gave me confidence,” Naomi told Glamour. “She made me feel like I could do anything.”
Laela mentioned that Taylor was very open-minded too, and she treated everyone equally because she wanted to bring people together.
Elizabeth Taylor with her granddaughter Naomi Wilding at a private dinner held in Taylor's honor on March 18, 2003 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: GettyImages
THEIR WORK WITH AIDS
Following their grandmother’s example, Naomi and Laela have now taken over the late actress’ AIDS activism. Although they lack Taylor’s power to left people in awe just with her presence, they inherited the passion and drive of the late star.
Naomi, Laela, and some of their cousins are now working as ETAF Ambassadors, making sure that the conversation around AIDS continues reaching mainstream media and taking part in AIDS Watch, the largest annual HIV/AIDS advocacy event in the U.S.
“She [Taylor] always said her plan was not to die until there was a cure for AIDS,” Naomi explained to People magazine last year.
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