Dame Elizabeth Taylor
Founding International Chairman
A legendary star of stage and screen, Elizabeth Taylor achieved equal fame for her humanitarian commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS which dates from 1984. As she remembers it, “I kept seeing all these news reports on this new disease and kept asking myself why no one was doing anything. And then I realized that I was just like them. I wasn’t doing anything to help.” The opportunity to do so came only too soon, when her long-time friend Rock Hudson died of AIDS. Appalled by both the suffering he experienced and the cruel and gratuitous condemnation that befell so many of those affected by the disease, Ms. Taylor became determined to speak out against hypocrisy and discrimination and for compassion and care. From then on she lent her voice—and indeed her heart and soul—to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
In 1985, Ms. Taylor joined with Dr. Mathilde Krim and a small group of physicians and scientists to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). As amfAR’s Founding National Chairman, she became the new organization’s principal spokesperson and titular head. As a great star and beloved public figure, she attracted enormous media attention. As a woman and a mother, her voice touched millions of hearts and minds. Indeed, for many Americans, it was Elizabeth Taylor who brought the issue of HIV/AIDS into the mainstream.
In 1986, she starred in a series of amfAR-produced television spots and made countless public appearances on the Foundation’s behalf. She later testified before Congress, most notably to ensure Senate support for the Ryan White CARE Act of 1990, which remains a primary source of federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs nationwide. She attracted two $1 million gifts to amfAR and traveled to Thailand, Japan, and repeatedly to Europe on the Foundation’s behalf—bravely facing crowds, cameras, and microphones, delivering her message of compassion, and bluntly criticizing government inaction.
In 1991, she started her own organization, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, to support the provision of direct AIDS services and complement the research, education, and advocacy programs supported by amfAR. In recent years—and despite serious health problems—she extended generous support to amfAR’s work, particularly to efforts to promote needle exchange programs as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy. Ms. Taylor also lent her support to several major events, including a World AIDS Day symposium at the United Nations, the highly successful Cinema Against AIDS event held annually at the Cannes International Film Festival, and Unforgettable: Fashion of the Oscars, the benefit auction to which she donated two special gowns. One of these, the dress she wore to present the Oscar for Best Picture in 1969, was auctioned for a record $167,500, second in value only to a Princess Diana dress auctioned in London in 1995.
Among many other awards, Elizabeth Taylor’s lifetime achievements earned her the French Legion of Honor, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the title of Dame of the British Empire, and most recently, a Presidential Citizens Medal. But for her, the spotlight was always on those in need. As she recently said, “I have dedicated my efforts … above all, to the thousands of men, women, and children throughout the world who have died of AIDS, or are currently fighting for their lives.”
Elizabeth Taylor took a personal risk in speaking out on the issue of HIV/AIDS—potentially jeopardizing the sine qua non of celebrity, the support of her public. But as she herself once said, “Celebrity is not something that comes without responsibility,” and her courageous advocacy of social justice and, especially, of compassion and respect for people with HIV/AIDS made her a superstar in a class by herself. The Foundation is honored to have been associated with Ms. Taylor and profoundly grateful for her sustained and generous commitment to its lifesaving mission.