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tv   Nightline  ABC  March 23, 2011 11:35pm-12:00am PDT

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tonight on "nightline," queen of hollywood. before all this, there was elizabeth. those eyes, that smile and all those scandals. she was a smoldering sex symbol and a hollywood superstar. barbara walters remembers elizabeth taylor. everything and more. the love affairs. the luxury. the famous friendships. the fashion statements. we get the inside story of the legend on and off the screen. remembering elizabeth taylor. a special edition of "nightline" with barbara walters starts right now. >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city,
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this is "nightline," march 23rd, 2011. >> good ooepin ievening, i'm te moran. and tonight, we remember elizabeth taylor, who died today at 79. and we're lucky we can call on a colleague of ours that knew taylor as a subject and friend. barbara walters is here with us. you interviewed elizabeth five times. reaction to her death is really breathtaking out there. on tv news, all the way out to twitter. really touched something deep in the country, across the generations, too. why? what was it about her that captured or imagination and held it for so long? >> reporter: well, i did interview her five times, but i also considered elizabeth taylor a friend and many people don't realize this, she had four children, ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren and she loved them dearly, so, i would like to say that my heart and sympathies go out to her family tonight. but to your question.
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everything she did was larger than life. she was the most beautiful child star. she was the most exquisite adult leading lady. she had 50 movies, two oscars, eight marriages, two to the same man. scandalous headlines and courageous activism. she lived her life her way and, terry, she didn't give a damn what anybody else thought about it. there are some people for whom even the words superstar seems too small. elizabeth taylor is not just hollywood history, she is american history. but unlike most movie legend, her films, though remarkable, are not at the center of this tale. her life has always had a better storyline. she once told me that she barely remembered a time when she wasn't famous. pushed by her mother, her big break came with the starring role in "national velvet" at the tender age of 12. >> i went to school on the
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studio lot and, you didn't have any peers. it was only later that i thought, wow, i really haven't had any preparation for the outside world. >> reporter: and she was right. she wasn't prepared for the attention she received for her striking looks, those violet eyes. one of the few child actors so exquisite she could seamlessly transition to adult roles. while filmed in 1950, the then 18-year-old elizabeth announced her engagement to nicky hilton, the 23-year-old heir to the hilton fortune. he would be the first of seven husbands. you were 18. >> i was a virgin. and it was all very exciting. so, two weeks after our marriage, when he started drinking, i had no idea that that person existed. and that's when the reality of
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the world hit me, and the reality that i was not an adult and i had to really grow up fast. >> reporter: abusive? >> oh, god, yes. i was -- a bit of a punching bag. >> reporter: that marriage ended in divorce. seeking love, she thought she had found refuge in her second marriage to the much older british actor michael wilding. but it also ended in divorce. in 1957, she made the film "rain tree county," a happy period when she met and fell in love with her third husband, producer michael todd. but it was fated to be a short marriage, with a tragic ending when his plane, heading to new york, crashed. >> it was strange. he said good-bye to me five times. and we clung to each other. and it was the first time we'd ever been separated in 13 years
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of marriage -- 13 months. >> reporter: is it funny that you say 13 years? wouldn't it have been wonderful? >> it sure would. >> reporter: when elizabeth flew to chicago for the funeral, she was accompanied by the singer eddie fisher, whose wife, debbie reynolds, stayed behind in los angeles. scandal erupted when fished divorced and tied the knot with taylor. taylor was called a homewrecker and reportedly hated her next role in the film "butterfield 8," where she played a woman who breaks up a marriage. she won her first oscar for it. >> i guess all i can do is say thank you. thank you with all my heart. >> reporter: in the midst of it all. a phone call that led to the most celebrated role of her life. "cleopatra." it was a groundbreaking performance, and a
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groundbreaking paycheck for taylor. they said, would you do it? >> i said, yeah, for a billion bucks and 10% of the gross. in time we will lose everything. >> reporter: in "cleopatra," mark antony was played by richard burton. >> i want to be free of you. >> reporter: offscreen, the two fell madly in love and scandalously lived together before either of them were divorced. both the catholic church and the u.s. congress condemned them for living in sin. but she and burton obtained divorces and their marriage was later called the romance of the century. they were married for ten headline-grabbing years and starred in 11 films together. their lovers quarrels on screen and off were legendary. >> i will marry you. >> i'd rather die. >> reporter: still, burton
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showered his wife with spectacular jewels, including the famous 33 carat diamond. she showed me her jewelry in 2002. >> he said, i want to get you that ring. would you like to try? >> reporter: i would love to try. well, thanks, a lot, elizabeth, the interview is over. let's go home. >> reporter: but no amount of jewelry would keep the marriage stable. the two divorced, only to marry again, but that didn't last, either. >> it was almost like everything was too much. we loved each other almost too much. it sounds silly. >> reporter: no, it doesn't. >> but it was so intense that it was almost abnormal. >> reporter: was he the love of your life? >> mike and richard were the loves of my life.
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>> reporter: in 1966, "who's afraid of virginia woolf" was considered one of her most challenging performances. the portrayal of a miserable, drunken wife earned her her second academy award for best actress. but even so, at the age of 34, her acting career started to fade. but not her ability to make headlines. weight gains and losses, addictions, more marriages and special friends. a company-wide memo about the meeting? uh-huh. this is the meeting. we are the company. don't sweat it. i just switched us to sprint, so e-mail, web...on 4g... it's all unlimited. [ cellphone buzzes ] you just texted me to read the memo?
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and we're back now with barbara walters remembering elizabeth taylor. barbara, you knew her over the years, through so many of the chapters of her life. there's a question a lot of people have. why did she get married so many times? >> reporter: eight times, yeah. you know, terry, these days, she probably would have just lived with all the guys she fancied. but in those days, she married them. and then when she had it, she divorced them. but she kept searching. by the early '70s, elizabeth taylor was a fading hollywood superstar. the leading roles were fewer. i knew her then and realized she was trying to find peace. and she thought she had found it with the distinguished john warner, who became husband number six and whom she helped become senator of virginia. i interviewed elizabeth with her new husband in 1977 and this was one time when she wasn't telling me the truth.
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are you worried about putting on weight? does it matter to you? >> no, it didn't. because i'm so happy and i enjoy eating. i like to cook. and i enjoy eating. >> reporter: you wouldn't care if you got fat? >> i am fat. >> reporter: she later admitted being tormented about being fat. >> i hated all the fat jokes. i probably laughed as loud or louder than anyone but they hurt. they hurt me a lot. and it was a kind of defiance that made me get even fatter. i've worked since i was 9 and so i've been told to do this. and i reached a point in my life where i thought, no, damn it, if i'm going to be fat, i'm bloody well be fat. >> reporter: in 1983, elizabeth taylor check into the bet if i ford clinic, coping with a lifetime of illnesses, she had become addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol.
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a new elizabeth taylor emerged drug free. how bad was the addiction? do you remember? >> i used to pride myself on having a wooden leg because i was not a fall down drunk. but i consumed inordinate amounts of alcohol. and combined with pills, it was deadly. >> reporter: when you decided to go to betty ford, you were, i think, the first major celebrity to do that. people were shocked. people thought it would be the end of your career. it took enormous courage. >> well, i knew i had to do something or i would die. >> reporter: while at betty ford, she met larry foe ten ski, a construction worker. it would be her eighth and final marriage for, it, too, ended in divorce. >> if you heard me getting married, slap me. >> reporter: free of marriage,
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she marketed her fame and her love of diamonds, making millimeters in the perfume business. she was rich, but she was also fearless. she had starred opposite rock hudson in the movie "giant" and she stood by him even keeping the secret that he had aids. >> he knew that i knew. we didn't discuss it. >> reporter: when hudson died of aids, elizabeth taylor broke through the shame, calling the world's attention to this tragic epidemic. >> good afternoon. >> reporter: she co-founded amfar, the american foundation for aids research and devoted the rest of her life to raising funds for aids esearch. >> i use my fame now, when i want to help a cause or do things for other people. >> reporter: by this time, she had four children of her own, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. but it was her own lost childhood which formed the basis of her close friendship with michael jackson. she is the godmother of two of
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his children. >> michael jackson and i are so close because neither one of us had a childhood. and we can relate to that. and wonder at how we got by. >> reporter: over the years, she said good-bye to many of her closest friends. all the while, battling health problems herself. skin cancer, hip replacements, a benign brain tumor. and at the very end, congestive heart failure, which ultimately took her life. >> there have been so many lessons, life and death lessons, emotional lessons. i have my friends, i have my children and i have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow. no one does. >> reporter: and take each day? >> take each day as it comes. and if it's a bad day the next day, just hang in. >> reporter: terry, the
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elizabeth taylor i knew was honest and salty and even broady sometimes. unlike almost everyone else, including me, she never wrote her all biography. but when i asked her once what she wanted on her tombstone, she told me, "here lies elizabeth, she hated being called liz, but she lived." >> she certainly did. and barbara, thank you very much for joining us on "nightline" tonight, bringing a perspective and your understanding of elizabeth taylor. and you can watch all of barbara's classic interviews with elizabeth taylor in their entirety on our website, go to abcnews.com. well, when we come back, is she america's last great movie star? we look at the pantheon of hollywood's legendary seductresses and what today's silver screen starlets owe to elizabeth taylor. depression is a serious medical condition. i feel like i have to wind myself up to deal with the sadness, the loss of interest,
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what makes a movie star? acting talent, sometimes. good looks a lot of the time. but stardom is something else, isn't it? an x-factor hidden in what we don't see, alluring mysteries about that face, those eyes, that persona. the kind of mysteries our celebrity culture now seems bent on abolishing. so, was elizabeth taylor our last movie star? they don't make them like elizabeth taylor anymore. just look at her in the movie "cleopatra." she was paid $1 million for the role, unheard of at the time. and she was worth every dime because, well, because she was cleopatra. our cleopatra.
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our image of the eternal power of a woman's essential and irresistible glamour. >> i will not be told where i can go and where i cannot go. >> reporter: she was a movie star. >> have you ever been dragged out into the street? >> reporter: and that's what movie stars do, or used to do, in hollywood's golden age. they became for us the bigger than life embodiments of our deepest dreams. icons of our ideals. john wayne's all american strength. we heard it in "red river." >> i signed nothing. if i had, i'd say. >> reporter: the smoldering passion that jumped off the screen in "to have and to have not." >> you know how to whistle, don't you? you just put your lips together and blow. >> reporter: james dean's brooding troubled youth in "rebel without a cause." >> you're tearing me apart! >> reporter: and, elizabeth
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taylor, always and forever our beauty. we gave them our eyes, they gave us our dreams, in radiant light that poured out on us in the darkness from the big screen. and they're gone now, nearly all of them. and the movies are different, and so are the movie stars. yes, there are still ravishing beauties in hollywood and handsome men and great actors. but are they great stars? or just great celebrities? something changed in the decades between liz and lindsay. something in the relationship between the movie stars and we who watch them. >> yeah, i am on a drug, it's called charlie sheen. >> reporter: we're a lot more cynical about them now. we know how much of a business fame really is. we anguished with gary cooper in "high noon" because we invested so much of our hearts with him
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over the years. mare lynilyn monroe, here in "t seven year itch" endures not just because she was sexy, but because we let her into our dreams in a way we don't anymore with movie stars. >> maybe you'd like to play? >> no, i'll just watch you. >> reporter: and elizabeth taylor's overpowering glamour will live on because we helped create it. >> every day i pray to god to give me horses. wonderful horses. >> reporter: no, they don't make them like elizabeth taylor anymore. because we don't. elizabeth taylor was a great star. thanks for watching abc news. barbara walters will have more on elizabeth taylor on "good morning america" tomorrow. and we're always online at abcnews.com. until tomorrow, then, good night, america.

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