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Image: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
Silver Screen Collection  /  Getty Images
Elizabeth Taylor met Richard Burton on the set of "Cleopatra." They were soon madly in love, and the world's press trumpeted every development of the affair.
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updated 3/23/2011 3:01:59 PM ET 2011-03-23T19:01:59

Jokers liked to call her Mrs. Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky. Indeed, Elizabeth Taylor was prolific as a bride.

"I think I ended up being the scarlet woman partly because of my rather puritanical upbringing and beliefs," she once said. "I couldn't just have a romance; it had to be marriage."

Her husbands were a hotel chain heir, an English actor, a flamboyant producer, a pop crooner, a Welsh actor (twice), a U.S. senator and a construction worker.

Her romances over the years included a football legend, a billionaire publisher and a Mexican lawyer.

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Taylor's love life probably received more public notice than any figure in history, including Cleopatra (whom she portrayed) and Casanova.

Story: Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor dies

She encountered a portent of things to come during her first romance, with Glenn Davis, the famed "Mr. Inside" of the Army football champions. When her dates with Davis attracted huge press attention, Taylor commented, "Maybe I should have fallen for a busboy, then the whole thing wouldn't cause so much attention."

A year later, her mother announced Taylor's engagement to William D. Pawley, 22-year-old son of a former ambassador to Brazil. The engagement was canceled three months later, and Taylor was rumored to be dating Howard Hughes. Mrs. Taylor angrily denied her daughter had ever seen the bashful billionaire without her parents' being present.

The wedding of Elizabeth Taylor, 18, to Conrad Nicholson "Nicky" Hilton, 23, on May 6, 1950, was hailed as the Hollywood social event of the year. They were married by a priest (Hilton was Roman Catholic, his bride was not) with a lavish reception at the Bel-Air Country Club.

BLTWY: Elizabeth Taylor's many men

"The honeymoon in Europe lasted two weeks," Taylor wrote in a 1965 memoir. "I should say the marriage lasted for two weeks. Then came, yours sincerely, disillusionment — rude and brutal."

Hilton, the granduncle of socialites Paris and Nicky Hilton, began drinking on their wedding night and seldom stopped. After the honeymoon Taylor went home to her mother and filed for divorce.

Of her marriage to British actor Michael Wilding, Taylor wrote: "We had a lovely, easy life, very simple, very quiet. Two babies were born. We had friends. We didn't do much."

Video: Elizabeth Taylor: Star of a lifetime

That all changed when she met Mike Todd. He was the dynamic producer of Broadway girlie shows, promoting the big-screen Cinerama and an all-star film of "Around the World in 80 Days." He swept Taylor off her feet and out of her marriage to Wilding.

"He had a joy, a relish about being alive, a vitality that was so contagious," she wrote. "He was a fabulous con artist — could con the gold out of your teeth — but was terribly, gregariously generous."

Todd's life was snuffed out on a New Mexico mountaintop in the 1958 crash of his private plane. Among those who consoled the widow was singer Eddie Fisher. Their romance caused the biggest Hollywood scandal of the time, to be superseded by a bigger scandal surrounding her fourth marriage.

Taylor was branded a "home wrecker" for allegedly breaking up Fisher's marriage to Debbie Reynolds, mother of his two children. Two years after her 1959 marriage to Fisher, Taylor met Richard Burton on the set of "Cleopatra."

"Has anybody ever told you that you're a very pretty girl?" said the hard-living actor. Her reaction: "Here's the great lover, the great wit, the great intellectual of Wales, and he comes out with a line like that!"

Interactive: Elizabeth Taylor's life and career (on this page)

They were soon madly in love, and the world's press trumpeted every development of the affair. After divorces from their spouses, Taylor and Burton were married March 15, 1964. They divorced in 1974, remarried in 1975 and divorced finally the following year.

From show business, Taylor moved to politics. In 1976 she married Virginian John W. Warner and helped his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1978. They were divorced in 1982.

"Being a senator's wife is not easy," she told a reporter. "It's very lonely. I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

John Warner remembers Elizabeth Taylor

Taylor's romances during the 1980s kept the tabloids busy but didn't reach the proportions of her earlier ones. She was engaged to New York businessman Dennis Stein and Mexican lawyer Victor Luna. She was rumored engaged to the late publisher Malcolm Forbes, but both claimed their relationship was platonic.

Her companion as she battled pneumonia in April 1990 was Larry Fortensky, 37, a construction worker she met while both were undergoing treatment at the Betty Ford Center.

She married Fortensky in October 1991 at friend Michael Jackson's ranch, as tabloid photographers peered down from helicopters overhead. "Marriage does give a sense of oneness that just being together can't," she said.

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But in August 1995, they announced a trial separation; and in February 1996 she filed for divorce.

"You don't get over men like the flu," she said. "Every divorce is like a little death."

Which was not to say she was giving up on men entirely.

"I'm not going to join a nunnery," she said. "I said I'm through with marriage, but I'm not through with men — that wouldn't be realistic."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Larry King: Taylor was a ‘gutsy’ ‘broad’

Photos: Elizabeth Taylor: Legend

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  1. Tiny Taylor

    Young Elizabeth Taylor stands with her brother, Howard, and their pets in a garden, circa 1930s. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. First role

    Taylor's first big-screen role was in the 1942 film, "There's One Born Every Minute," in which she co-starred with Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer and Catherine Doucet. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pure velvet

    Taylor gained prominence playing Velvet Brown in 1944's "National Velvet," the story of a girl who nurtures a special horse and races him in England's Grand National Steeplechase. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Doggone good

    In 1946, Taylor starred opposite Lassie in the dog's third (and Taylor's sixth) film, "Courage of Lassie." In this film, the legendary dog outsmarts the Nazis during World War II. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Greeting fans

    Teenage Taylor, wearing white gloves and an evening gown, signs autographs for eager fans at a nightclub in 1946. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Growing up

    Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor embrace on the set of 1949's "Conspirator," as the crew looks on. This was Taylor's first adult role. (Keystone Features / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Marriage No. 1

    Taylor and her first husband, hotelier Nicky Hilton, on their wedding day, May 6, 1950. The two divorced on Jan. 29, 1951. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Finding a 'Place'

    Taylor and close friend Montgomery Clift co-starred in George Stevens' 1951 film, "A Place in the Sun." She played a spoiled socialite who attracts the attention of Clift, who then murders his working-class pregnant girlfriend (Shelley Winters). Clift and Winters were nominated for Oscars, but Taylor was snubbed. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Marriage No. 2

    Taylor married her second husband, Michael Wilding, on Feb. 21, 1952. The two were divorced on Jan. 26, 1957. (Ron Burton / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Under contract

    Taylor starred opposite George Sanders and Robert Taylor (not pictured) in Richard Thorpe's 1952 film, "Ivanhoe." Taylor was reportedly not pleased that MGM cast her in this forgettable film. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Simply lovely

    Taylor poses for a promotional photo in 1955. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Iconic cast

    Taylor starred opposite James Dean and Rock Hudson in George Stevens' 1956 film, "Giant." Dean and Hudson were nominated for Academy Awards, but once again, Taylor was passed over. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. My two sons

    Taylor with her sons Michael (born Jan. 6, 1953) and Christopher Wilding (born Feb. 27, 1955). (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Tragic turn

    Taylor married her third husband, American film producer Mike Todd, on Feb. 2, 1957. He was killed in a plane crash on March 22, 1958. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Here, kitty, kitty

    Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor starred together in Richard Brooks' 1958 film, based on the Tennessee Williams play, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." She received her second Oscar nomination (the first was for 1957's "Raintree County") for her role as Maggie the Cat. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Marriage No. 4

    Taylor married actor Eddie Fisher on May 12, 1959. It was a major 1950s Hollywood scandal when he left actress Debbie Reynolds (and his children Carrie and Todd Fisher) to be with Taylor. The two divorced on March 6, 1964. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Passion play

    Richard Burton played Antony to Taylor's Cleopatra in the 1963 film of the same name. Taylor received $1 million for her role, and the two stars had a well-publicized affair during the filming. The couple would marry, for the first time, on March 15, 1964. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Golden girl

    Taylor holds the Oscar she won for her role in 1966's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in which she starred opposite husband Richard Burton. It was her second Oscar; she won her first for her role in 1960's "Butterfield 8." (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Twice as nice

    Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton hold their granddaughter, Leyla, on Jan. 15, 1973, in Gstaad, Switzerland. The couple divorced on June 26, 1974, but then remarried on Oct. 10, 1975. They divorced for a second time on July 29, 1976. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Marriage No. 7

    Taylor married American politician John Warner on Dec. 4, 1976. The couple divorced in 1982, while he was serving as a Republican senator from Virginia. He previously served as Secretary of the Navy. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Checking in

    Taylor visited "General Hospital" in 1981, where she portrayed Helena Cassadine opposite singer-actor Rick Springfield's Dr. Noah Drake. Here they're pictured with "GH" executive producer/director Gloria Monty. (ABC via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. AIDS activist

    Elizabeth Taylor appears before the Labor, Health and Human Services Senate Subcommittee on May 8, 1986, in Washington, D.C. Taylor appeared as chair of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and appealed for more research funds. The actress helped create amfAR after the 1985 AIDS-related death of her friend, actor Rock Hudson. She also created the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. (Jerome Delay / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Two child stars

    Taylor and singer Michael Jackson hold one of two awards he won on Jan. 25, 1993, at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles, Calif. She was a vocal Jackson supporter during his 2005 trial on charges of sexually abusing a child. (Vince Bucci / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Marriage No. 8

    Taylor married former Teamster Larry Fortensky, 20 years her junior, at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch on Oct. 6, 1991. The two met while patients at the Betty Ford Clinic. The couple divorced on Oct. 31, 1996. (Brenda Chase / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Honored

    President George W. Bush shakes hands with Taylor, a Kennedy Center honoree, on Dec. 8, 2002, at The White House. Left to right, the other honorees are actor James Earl Jones, music conductor James Levine, dancer-actress Chita Rivera, singer-songwriter Paul Simon and Taylor. (Eric Draper / AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Birthday bash

    Taylor arrives with her children, Michael Wilding Jr., Christopher Wilding, Maria Burton, and Liza Todd Burton, for Taylor's 75th birthday party on Feb. 27, 2007, in Henderson, Nev. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Acting up

    Taylor starred opposite James Earl Jones in the A.R. Gurney play "Love Letters" in 2007. The performance raised $1 million for Taylor's AIDS foundation. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Saying goodbye

    Taylor attends Michael Jackson's funeral service at Glendale Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif., on Sept. 3, 2009. (Harrison Funk / The Jackson Family via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The legend

    Taylor on the catwalk at the 27th Annual Macy's Passport party in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sept. 24, 2009. Despite suffering from a cold, the 77-year-old Hollywood legend managed to make an appearance grand enough to warrant a standing ovation. Taylor told the crowd, "As my beloved friend Michael [Jackson] said, 'We are the world.' And it is up to us to take care of those who are sick and dying, in this country and particularly in Africa." (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Legacy

    The American Film Institute named Taylor No. 7 among the Greatest Female Stars of All Time. On the list, she came right after Marilyn Monroe and just before Judy Garland. She died on March 23, 2011, in Los Angeles with her children at her side. She was 79 years old. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Timeline: Elizabeth Taylor's life and career

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