The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Elizabeth Taylor

I read the news today. Oh boy.

Elizabeth Taylor, the actress who dazzled generations of moviegoers with her stunning beauty and whose name was synonymous with Hollywood glamour, died Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 79.

The cause was congestive heart failure, her publicist, Sally Morrison, told The Associated Press.

In a world of flickering images, Ms. Taylor was a constant star. First appearing onscreen at age 9, she grew up there, never passing through an awkward age. It was one quick leap from “National Velvet” to “A Place in the Sun” and from there to “Cleopatra” as she was indelibly transformed from a vulnerable child actress into a voluptuous film queen.

In a career of more than 70 years and more than 50 films, she won two Academy Awards as best actress, for her performances as a call girl in “Butterfield 8” (in 1960) and as the acid-tongued Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (in 1966). Mike Nichols, who directed her in “Virginia Woolf,” said he considered her “one of the greatest cinema actresses.”

I’m not sure what I can add to all that has been and will be said. But here goes.

She was, to many, a great beauty.

She was, without a doubt a great actress.

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But what I remember her for first and foremost, as a gay man who came out of the closet the same time the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit the news, I don’t remember a time “before” the epidemic.” But I do remember Taylor as one of the first celebrities to speak up .

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That role, as an activist, warranted just a short paragraph in the New York Times article.

Late in her life, she became known as a social activist. After the death of her friend Rock Hudson, she was a founder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and devoted a great deal of her time to raising money for it. In 1997, she said, “I use my fame now when I want to help a cause or other people.”

AmFar’s tribute page says more.

March 23, 2011— The board of trustees and staff of amfAR mourn the passing of our beloved Founding International Chairman, Dame Elizabeth Taylor. Dame Elizabeth was without doubt one of the most inspirational figures in the fight against AIDS. She was among the first to speak out on behalf of people living with HIV when others reacted with fear and often outright hostility. For 25 years, Dame Elizabeth has been a passionate advocate of AIDS research, treatment and care. She has testified eloquently on Capitol Hill, while raising millions of dollars for amfAR. Dame Elizabeth’s compassion, radiance, and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed by us all. She leaves a monumental legacy that has improved and extended millions of lives and will enrich countless more for generations to come.

That’s the Liz Taylor I remember most.

On the other hand, the first time I saw Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Liz Taylor actually made me forget about Paul Newman. Just for a while, of course. But still, something.