Swathed in jewels and bathed in the spotlight, Elizabeth Taylor made a rare but regal public appearance to dedicate the new UCLA Clinical AIDS Research and Education Center.
Wearing a cream-colored jacket over a billowy black pantsuit, the 73-year-old actress, who has had severe back problems in recent years, arrived in a wheelchair. She wore a jeweled butterfly barrette in her hair, her arms dripped with dozens of bracelets and a massive diamond lit up her left hand.
In front of an intimate crowd that included rocker Tom Petty and actress Carrie Fisher, Taylor cut a red ribbon to signify the center's official opening Friday and announced the creation of the Elizabeth Taylor Endowment Fund, which will support the center through grants and private donations.
Taylor, who won Academy Awards for 1960's "Butterfield 8" and 1966's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", said she has traded in the life of an actress for that of an activist.
"Acting is, to me now, artificial," she told The Associated Press. "Seeing people suffer is real. It couldn't be more real. Some people don't like to look at it in the face because it's painful. But if nobody does, then nothing gets done."
Taylor helped establish the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985 and created the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991. The two organizations have raised a combined $243 million to fund research and improve the lives of people with HIV and AIDS.
"There's still so much more to do," Taylor said. "I can't sit back and be complacent, and none of us should be. I get around now in a wheelchair, but I get around."
The new center will conduct research and bring innovative treatments to patients, bridging Taylor's two charities, said Dr. Edwin Bayrd, director of the UCLA AIDS Institute. He called the actress "the Joan of Arc of AIDS activism."
Although the subject was serious, Taylor, married eight times to seven men, lightened the mood when UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale confessed to having had a "puppy love" infatuation with the actress.
"Are you married?" she asked him.