Elizabeth Taylor Dies at Age 79

BY Tom LeGro  March 23, 2011 at 11:38 AM EDT

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Elizabeth Taylor poses for a photo in 1951. Photo by Virgil Apger/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images.

Actress and Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor died Wednesday at age 79. A publicist told the Associated Press that Taylor was surrounded by her four children when she died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where she had been hospitalized for about six weeks.

One of the last true Hollywood icons, Taylor had not appeared in a movie in years, but her beauty and acting work in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Butterfield 8,” which both earned her Academy Awards, “National Velvet,” “A Place in the Sun,” “Cleopatra,” “Father of the Bride,” “Giant,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and countless others earned her a legion of adoring fans. In all, she starred in more than 50 films.

Watch clips from some of her most famous roles:

Taylor was also as famous for her off-screen life, of course: Nine high-profile marriages (to eight different men) and seven divorces (as well as one widowhood) to a hotel magnate, a famous singer, a Hollywood producer, a fellow movie star, and a politician, among others; struggles with her health (at least 20 major operations and drug and alcohol abuse); and her humanitarian and philanthropic work. She was an early and enthusiastic advocate for AIDS research, launching the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991.

Taylor was born in London on Feb. 27, 1932, the daughter of an art dealer and American stage actress. The family moved to Beverly Hills at the onset of World War II, and Taylor made her screen debut in 1942 with a small part in a comedy, “There’s One Born Every Minute.”

In 1944, her role as Velvet Brown in “National Velvet” launched her to fame.

Taylor is survived by her daughters, Maria Burton-Carson and Liza Todd-Tivey, sons Christopher and Michael Wilding, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“My Mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love,” Michael Wilding said in a statement. “We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts.”

Here are some of the early reactions from writers about Taylor’s life and legacy:

The Associated Press:

“[T]he violet-eyed film goddess whose sultry screen persona, stormy personal life and enduring fame and glamour [was] one of the last of the old-fashioned movie stars and a template for the modern celebrity.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan:

“Her astonishingly dramatic personal life, characterized by full-throttle romantic love and later recriminations, serious illnesses and tragic deaths, matched the drama of her on-screen roles stride for stride and maybe even bested it. While many actresses specialize in public private lives, it’s hard to think of another one quite as astounding in its fearless pursuit of happiness as Taylor’s.”

The New York Times’ Mel Gussow:

“Marilyn Monroe was the sex goddess, Grace Kelly the ice queen, Audrey Hepburn the eternal gamine. Ms. Taylor was beauty incarnate.”

Tune in to Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour for more on Taylor’s life.