TODAY   |  March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor remembered as extraordinary star

Entertainment Weekly’s Jess Cagle remembers the legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor as a woman who embraced victims of AIDS with grace and love.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> sad passing of hollywood legend elizabeth taylor who died this morning in los angeles at cedars- sinai hospital . she was 79, surrounded by family members and had been battling congestive heart failure for some time now. nobody knew it was something so serious at this particular time.

>> we were mentioning her work regarding hiv /aids. interesting to note her family in lieu of flowers is asking that any contributions be made to one of the organizations being -- the elizabethtayloraidsfoundation. org. if you want to send personal messages, the family is asking for you to log on to facebook.c i'm sure a lot of people will write about their memories of watching her on screen.

>> she was honored recently for her pioneering work in hiv /aids. obviously she had not been feeling well. she wasn't there. so she was really missed.

>> there will be a lot of reaction to her passing throughout the day. we have jess kagal on from " entertainment weekly " good morning.

>> good morning. we can look at her life in so many ways from her work in hollywood in the acting world to, of course, we have been talking about the business side of her and the philanthropic side. what's your reaction?

>> i think there's probably never been a star that people -- that so many generations were so personally invested in. i mean, she was -- you know, her private life during the '50s on through the '60s when she was married to richard burton , many marriages. she was also a really good actress. she didn't do that many great movies, but there were a few amazing ones. as she got older and built this, you know, empire with perfume, as she especially went on to be the first smopokesperson for hiv /aids patients, fighting for their rights, for attention. as you said on the show, at a time when nobody would touch that. at a time when the president e wouldn't say it aloud she was out fighting the good fight . she was an extraordinary woman, extraordinary star.

>> we had elton john on not long ago. i was complimenting him on his work raising money for aids and people with hiv . he stopped me and said, you know, i'm trying to catch up because i was blind to it. i wasn't there when people needed me in the beginning. it was elizabeth taylor who woke me up and got my attention.

>> that's exactly right. it wasn't just the public. it was people in hollywood . it was gay friends of hers. she was really sounding this alarm bell at a time when, i hate to say, it was so not cool to do that. she really showed incredible grand valley bravery. we look at the marriages and extravagant life and all that. she was -- we forget the amazing work she did.

>> you know, jess, i'm trying to remember -- and i hope i'm not mistaken, but if i'm correct i believe she was a good friend of rock hudson .

>> she was.

>> that may have led to her work with aids. it's interesting that she's so courageous in this work. one reason why you talk about people connecting with her, she had a deep fragility in her work and also in life. the comparison between this amazing courage and this deep fragility, they were embodied in one woman.

>> i think that the courage came -- and you're right. she was -- she always spoke her mind. she was very funny in person. i interviewed her once at her home which was just fascinating because she was -- you know, it was like going to your grandmother's house if your grandmother had a billion dollars. very down-to-earth. very funny, warm. but you also knew you were in the presence of a huge star. i think that the courage came a lot from being a child star . we forget she became world famous at a very, very early age. she married the first time very, very young. she lived a life that truly nobody but elizabeth taylor could completely have lived.

>> right. i remember meeting her at malcolm forbes ' house back probably 19, 20 years ago. she was probably approaching 60. we set up cameras to do an interview. this is a completely different era, but every guy on the shoot stopped and took a deep breath. she was magnificent. the beauty was astonishing.

>> her beauty was astonishing, even when she was -- i interviewed her -- i think when i met her she was mid to late '70s already. she just -- those eyes were still that incredible violet. they still really sparkled. i honestly don't know. i think in the next few weeks we'll see a lot of photos of her when she was in her prime. it may be that there was never a more beautiful actress or at least a more photogenic one.

>> jess, thank you so much for your perspective and knowledge about this. it's really been helpful. thank you so much.