“National Velvet” star Elizabeth Taylor dies at 79

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Elizabeth Taylor, as Velvet Brown, on the second horse from left at the start of the race in National Velvet.
Elizabeth Taylor, as Velvet Brown, on the second horse from the left at the start of the race in National Velvet.

Actress Elizabeth Taylor died in Los Angeles on Wednesday at the age of 79, some 67 years after her first starring role in the equestrian classic National Velvet.

Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor had suffered from ill health for many years, and died at Cedars-Sinai Hospital after a six-year struggle with congestive heart disease. She had back problems for many years since she fell from a horse during the filming of National Velvet in 1944.

The two-time Academy Award winner first found fame as Velvet Brown in National Velvet, starring with Donald Crisp, Angela Lansbury, Anne Revere and Mickey Rooney, in the classic horse film which was based on the 1935 novel by Enid Bagnold.

Velvet Brown trains her horse, The Pi, for the Grand National Steeplechase, and disguises herself as a male jockey to ride in the race.

Taylor was one of the few child actors to go on to a successful film career as an adult, winning Oscars for Butterfield 8 (1960) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). She also starred in The Taming of the Shrew, Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Cleopatra.

She was born in London to American parents, who were art dealers from St Louis, Missouri, who had gone to Britain to set up a gallery. Taylor’s mother had been a stage actress, but gave that up when she married. The family lived in London until Elizabeth was seven, when the family left for the US on the eve of war in 1939.

They settled in Los Angeles, and Elizabeth’s looks were noticed by a family friend who suggested she be taken for a screen test. She impressed Universal Pictures and was signed to a contract. Her first film appearance was in There’s One Born Every Minute (1942), released when she was 10. Universal then dropped her contract, but she was soon picked up by MGM.

Elizabeth Taylor in the classic horse film National Velvet.
Elizabeth Taylor in the classic horse film National Velvet.

Her last screen appearance was in 2001.

Taylor was close friends to the late singer Michael Jackson, and supported Aids-related charities. She had her own perfume line, White Diamonds.

She was married eight times, to Conrad Hilton Jr, Michael Wilding, Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton (twice), John Warner, and Larry Fortensky.

Taylor was often seen at race meetings. She attended the Epsom Derby in 1957 with her third husband, Mike Todd, and Eddie Fisher and his wife Debbie Reynolds. She attended the 1968 Arc de Triomphe in Paris with Richard Burton, Maria Callas, and Peter O’Toole.

Her second-to-last husband, Virginia politician John Warner, was a horse owner and breeder. Her daughter, Liz Todd-Tivey, is an equestrian sculptor.

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