TODAY | March 23, 2011
>> we are all sitting here reacting to the terrible news from los angeles that elizabeth taylor has passed away. legend is a word that's overused. this is a legend. think about her film career, her career as a businesswoman, her incredible work on behalf of people with aids raising awareness and raising millions and millions of dollars for the treatment and possibilitiablele cure of the disease.
>> it will be interesting to see how history remembers a woman who will be remembered as one of the most beautiful women ever with those beautiful eyes . " cat on a hot tin roof ".
>> "who's afraid of virginia woolf ." but i think you're right. she will be remembered for her work with hiv /aids. she was a major supporter at a time when americans were afraid of even touching someone with hiv /aids. she was a voice to say this is not how we treat people who are sick.
>> we are finding out she died of congestive heart failure. she's been out of the spotlight over the last decade or so, not really making so many appearances. but we hear she was surrounded by family.
>> her four children, ten grandchildren, four great-grandchildren. michael wilding , her son, said my mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest with passion and love. her loss is devastating to those of us who held her close. we will bel always inspired by her contribution to our world. her on going success as a businesswoman and her brave advocacy in the fight against hiv /aids all make us proud of what she accomplished.
>> that's right. she's a legend in her work and a legend as a human being .
>> that's right. for more on her life and legacy, here's nbc's michael oku.
>> reporter: she was one of the last of the green goddesses from hollywood's golden age . born in london to american parents in 1932 , elizabeth taylor moved to los angeles just before the outbreak of world war ii . small roles in movies like " jane eyre " and "lassie come home" led to her first leading role at 12 in " national velvet ".
>> father, he's a lovely thing. you should see him. he never puts a foot wrong.
>> the new horse. i'm in love with him.
>> reporter: at 18, taylor showed her acting range as a spoiled socialite in "a place in the sun ."
>> i'll go on loving you for as long as i live.
>> reporter: nominated multiple times for the best actress academy award in such roles as the ignored wife in " cat on a hot tin roof ".
>> not by the crowds, baby, by you. by the man i worshipped. that's why i hated skipper.
>> reporter: and the confused murder witness in "suddenly last summer summer." oscar finally came calling for the role of a call girl in " butterfield 8 ".
>> you can't have everything in life.
>> reporter: and again for a drunken and abusive wife.
>> oh, boy. you're having a field day .
>> reporter: her life was as dramatic as her roles on screen. married eight times. actor richard burton , her costar, became her husband twice.
>> i have had everything. i have had my share of joy, pain, luck, rough times.
>> reporter: taylor struggled with health problems throughout her life. near fatal bouts of pneumonia, substance abuse issues and a brain tumor. she survived them all.
>> either you look forward to waking up or you don't. i do.
>> these have always brought me luck.
>> reporter: as the acting career waned she embarked on personal ventures. launching a perfume empire and publishing a best-selling diet book after years of struggling with weight problems. but her later years were defined by her crusade to focus the world's attention on aids.
>> the government is not doing enough. they should be spending billions.
>> reporter: last seen publically at her friend michael jackson 's funeral in september. she survived by four children and nine grandchildren. elizabeth taylor was 77 years old. nbc news, los angeles .
>> i think she was actually 79 years old. that's right.
>> prayers to her family and of course all her fans