LONDON (Reuters) - Elizabeth Taylor was given a glowing send-off on Thursday by the world’s media, which hailed her as “Hollywood’s last goddess.”
Photographs of the violet-eyed beauty vied for space on newspaper front pages with Britain’s budget and the crises in Japan and Libya, while obituaries and tributes united in their praise of an actress who embodied movie star glamour.
The Oscar-winning star of “Cleopatra” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday after a long battle with congestive heart failure that sent her to the hospital six weeks ago. She was 79.
“Liz: farewell to Hollywood’s last goddess” was the headline on the Daily Mirror tabloid in Taylor’s native Britain.
It produced a special tribute pullout full of photographs of the screen siren, from childhood and early movie roles like “Lassie Come Home” to her best-known performances, many marriages and later years of fluctuating weight and ill health.
Veteran film columnist Donald Zec, who met many of Hollywood’s leading stars as a journalist, called Taylor “showbusiness’s most spectacular survivor.
“Her life was an endless battle against obesity, alcohol, and several frightening near death encounters where everybody had given up — except Liz Taylor,” he wrote.
“Twice I was hauled off a golf course to write her obituary only for the patient to emerge from a coma, flutter her eyelashes, and ask for champagne.”
Like others, Zec focused on Taylor’s torrid relationship with actor Richard Burton, to whom she was married twice. He said their marriage was “made in Heaven but with several lively excursions to Hell.”
The Independent newspaper called her “the last of the Hollywood greats,” and said part of her appeal came from a private life that was very public.
“Her biography is a wonderfully lurid and colorful story of conspicuous consumption, failed marriages, affairs, illnesses, bickering and boozing,” said Geoffrey Macnab.
He added that Taylor was a reminder of Hollywood’s golden age that had already passed by the time she played Cleopatra.
The New York Times dedicated a small, front page window to the actress in its online edition.
“In the end, the genius of her career was that she gave the world everything it wanted from a glamorous star — the excitement and drama, the diamonds and gossip — and she did it by refusing to become fame’s martyr,” said Manohla Dargis.
In Italy, La Repubblica daily ran the page one headline “Liz Taylor The Eyes of Hollywood,” and Paolo Mereghetti, veteran film critic for Corriere della Sera, wrote a piece entitled “Farewell to the mythical Liz, the last Hollywood star.”
On Wednesday, Taylor’s death triggered a rush of tributes from fellow stars, including actress and singer Barbra Streisand and musician Elton John, as well as politicians like former president Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“It wasn’t just her beauty or her stardom. It was her humanitarianism. She put a face on HIV/AIDS,” Streisand said, referring to Taylor’s active support of HIV charities from the mid-1980s at a time when the illness was still taboo to many.
AIDS charities lauded Taylor the campaigner, who was spurred on by the 1985 death from an AIDS-related illness of friend Rock Hudson.
Taylor died surrounded by her children, Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd and Maria Burton. She is also survived by 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.
Additional reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Steve Addison