This past week, we were all captivated by the life and spirit of Elizabeth Taylor. What struck me the most, in listening to, reading, and watching all the stories about the great actress, was that throughout her remarkable life, she remained true to herself. Her choices were determined not by the wishes or beliefs of others, but by her own truth, her own soul.
The studios were famous for grooming and shaping their talent, just as they pleased. And if you wanted to be a star you sure as heck did what they said. But not a young Elizabeth Taylor. Very early on, then signed to MGM, she refused to acquiesce to the studio’s “request” that she change her name and remove the mole on her face.
She would marry whom she loved and refused to be trapped in relationships that no longer worked. Some might say that she did not respect the institution of marriage. Eight marriages, seven husbands – that’s far too many. But I would argue that, as a passionate, strong-minded woman, Elizabeth was simply unable to abide by anything less than an ideal marriage. It is after all the most incredible gift to humankind, marriage - the opportunity to share love, joy and true connection with another person. Unlike many women, Elizabeth did not need to marry for financial security. She could marry for love. And when the relationship proved to be less than what it was meant to be, she had the courage to be true and to move on.
She changed religions, choosing Judaism in her twenties, not because, as some believe, it was the religion of her third husband, Mike Todd, but because she wanted to. It was true for her. We know this because decades later, last week, her funeral, was presided over by a rabbi. And because she was an ardent and loyal supporter of the State of Israel, for which she was black-listed by many Arab countries. No lip-service here, she donated large sums to Israel and Jewish causes.
She broke through the glass ceiling, in the early sixties becoming the first actor, male or female, to be paid a million dollars. Think of it - a woman, the highest earner in any industry. Unheard of! Elizabeth was unquestionably a woman who knew her worth and demanded it.
Never afraid to go against the grain, with the outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s, she awakened to the overwhelming need to help, and at a time when few even acknowledged the disease, she helped organize and host the very first AIDS fundraiser. She would go on to help raise more than $100 million to help battle HIV/AIDS. Later, she acknowledged the struggle she faced in changing the prejudices towards those suffering from AIDS, “I had to fight! I had to fight! “ Yes, she fought for her friends and for those who had no one to speak for them, and she did it when it was the most unpopular thing to do.
She struggled though her own pain and suffering too, lots of it. But through it all, she was a woman who was not afraid to be true to who she was. And ultimately, that’s what it takes to live life well. She was a great role model for us all. Thank you Elizabeth!