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Elizabeth Taylor: Loving men and being a 'dame'

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(CNN) -- The only thing more chaotic than her movie life may be screen icon Elizabeth Taylor's personal life. The often-married Taylor sat down with Larry King on January 15, 2001, to talk about her past loves, on-screen and off, as well as honors from the queen of England.

As Larry King celebrates 50 years in broadcasting, take a look at some excerpts from one of his most fascinating guests.

KING: What a great pleasure to have Elizabeth Taylor guest with us for the full hour tonight. She has been on twice before. And it's always great to see her. It's been five years since she has been with us. Thank you very much, Dame Elizabeth.

TAYLOR: Why thank you.

KING: What is it like to be a dame?

TAYLOR: Well, I have been a broad all my life. (Laughter) ... And dame just automatically came next.

KING: Is the dame the female version of sir?

TAYLOR: Yes, exactly.

KING: Do they dub you dame? Do they do it in the court?

TAYLOR: Oh, yes, in Buckingham Palace. But [the Queen] doesn't do it with the sword to women. She only does that with men.

KING: What an honor, huh?

TAYLOR: Oh, God, I have never been so excited in my life.

KING: Have you -- you do you think you have been kind of cursed with illness? Let's look. You had brain tumor, back, neck, leg pains, spinal surgery, hip replacements, almost died of respiratory problems.

TAYLOR: Oh, I have done that several times.

KING: Do you think you are kind of -- there's a cloud hanging over you?

TAYLOR: No, I don't, because I'm still here.

KING: Well, do you -- why are there so many brushes, do you think?

TAYLOR: I don't know. I have kind of wondered about that once or twice. And I think each time I have learned a lesson from it. Each time that I have almost died, while I have been recuperating and not quite knowing whether I was going to make it or not, you have time, plenty of time.

Even an hour is plenty of time when you don't know whether you are going to live or not. And you think: Why did I make it? Why am I not dead? Everything indicated that I should be. There must be some reason that God wants me to live. There must be something left for me to do. And I have to find out what that something is and go out there and do it!

KING: What got you [involved in AIDS charities?] ... Was it Rock Hudson that got you spurred into it?

TAYLOR: I had heard about it before I knew that Rock definitely had it. I thought maybe he had cancer, because he looked so gaunt and thin. And then I actually found out it was AIDS. But I got all worked up about AIDS before I really knew that Rock had it, because nobody was doing anything about it. People were talking about it. It was the topic at every cocktail party.

"Oh, this dreadful disease, darling. AIDS, oh, it's so awful. How do you think -- oh, it must have been those homosexuals." And it just was -- it irritated me so much that I -- I'm so angry. But wait a minute. I'm angry, but what am I doing? I'm sitting back here, getting all riled up. My blood pressure has probably gone sky-high. But what have I done? What have I done?

Have I tried to put a foundation together? Have I tried to put an organization together that could raise funds, give dinners, get celebrities to sing and dance to get medicine, to do something to try and help these people that are dying, and dying this horrible death?

KING: So you started. Look how many you've helped. Look how people live with it for 15 years, 16 years. Look at the advance in drugs, and you kicked all that off.

TAYLOR: Because of my rage. And then I heard of Rock's death, and I went to see him.

KING: Did you see him right before he died?

TAYLOR: Oh, yes, I was with him the night before. And he couldn't remember today. He could remember yesterday. But he couldn't remember the present.

And we laughed about making chocolate martinis. And oh, he was just skin and bones. And I thought I am going to do everything in my living power to get at this disease and kill it by its throat.

KING: What a movie career, what a life! We were just talking during the break about James Dean. We had discussed "Giant" and the making of "Giant" and Rock Hudson. What -- and I asked you how great an actor would James Dean have become had he lived, and what do you think?

TAYLOR: I think he would have matured. I think he would have grown up in his skin. He was very bright, very intelligent young man.

KING: You liked him?

TAYLOR: I loved him. And we shared moments. During the day sometimes, he would just walk by me, and hmm, hmm. And I'd think OK. And then at nighttime, because we had houses right opposite each other -- Rock had a house here, I had a house here, and Jimmy had a house there. So we were always sort of crossing the street to visit each other and barbecue.

KING: Montgomery Clift had a great influence on him.

TAYLOR: I think Monty's work had a great influence on him.

KING: You were very close to Clift, weren't you?

TAYLOR: Oh, he was my best friend. I loved him.

KING: What a tragedy.

TAYLOR: Yes. And it started when he was leaving my house. His car ran up a telephone pole and his head went into the steering wheel and then into the dashboard. And his -- the car was like an accordion-pleated mess. And I don't know, adrenaline does something to you. I ran down the hill, and there were other people, men, running after me; Rock was there, it was a small dinner, we were all working. And I wrenched the door open -- where I got the strength, I don't know. And I pulled him back, from the steering wheel which had gone into his forehead, his nose, his eye, his cheek -- broken his nose in four places, his jaw in six places.

KING: And that was the beginning of the end?


KING: Of all the loves, and you and I could talk about loves, was [Richard Burton] the greatest for you? Was he the most potent person in your life?

TAYLOR: I have been astonishingly lucky. I have had two great loves in my life.

KING: I'm going to guess the other one: Mike Todd.

TAYLOR: Mike Todd. And we only had 13 months together.

KING: He died in a plane crash.

TAYLOR: Our plane. And I didn't think I was going to live after that. I didn't want to live. And it was like -- Mike's love was his legacy to me. And years later, I met Richard, and I had met him before, but I thought, huh, I'm not going to be a scalp on his belt because he was a terrible flirt. And the first scene we had on "Cleopatra" he was so hung over he was pathetic. ... And I felt my heart just went, oh, poor baby. And he said, could you help hold this cup up to my lips, please, my hands are shaking too much. So I did. And I looked into those green eyes, and it was like, huh, here I am.

KING: Were you soul mates, do you think?

TAYLOR: Oh, God yes.

KING: Yes, and the bad side, too, right?

TAYLOR: Good and bad. Because I have -- I have a wildness too. I'm English, Irish, Scottish, French, Italian, German, Swiss. Pretty big mixture.

KING: The arguments must have been terrific.

TAYLOR: Wonderful.

KING: The making-up must have been fun.

TAYLOR: Oh, yes.

KING: I guess everyone says, though, Larry Fortensky; what was that about? Everyone asks about that.

TAYLOR: ... it may not look, to the outside world -- it may not look like we had a lot in common, but he was a very sweet, gentle man, who wanted to experience life, who wanted to go out and taste what it was like out there; he'd never left California.

Then all of a sudden, something happened. He became -- he had OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] and he didn't want to leave the house. And he didn't want to go anywhere, and I would go places alone. And we stopped communicating; and our marriage just completely -- it fragmented.

KING: Would you marry again?

TAYLOR: Larry?

KING: Anybody.


KING: That's it?


KING: You're done?

TAYLOR: Yes! I'd live with someone if he were cute, intelligent, compassionate, adorable, had a good sense of humor.

KING: To Ottawa, Ontario, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Dame Elizabeth, it's great to speak to you, and I was just wondering, do you have a favorite film star, and is there anyone you regret not having worked with?

KING: Good question.

TAYLOR: My favorite film star is Richard Burton. Do deceased count?

KING: Anyone you haven't worked with you would have liked to work with?

TAYLOR: I would love to have worked with Laurence Olivier. And I would love to work with Marlon Brando again.

KING: She appeared tonight, not to plug anything; just because she is her. ... she came here because she is Elizabeth Taylor and she is one of the good people. Thank you, dear.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

Elizabeth Taylor was a child star who successfully transitioned to adult superstar. The actress devotes time these days to charitable work.


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