Yes, her love life was often a mess. Her public image was said to be a train wreck, and lots of guys bemoaned the way she let herself go.
But Elizabeth Taylor, who died last week, should be regarded as something of a heroic symbol.
Hollywood chewed her up and spat her out, first as a child star and then as an adult. She had no real childhood to speak of, anyway, just a series of close-ups and photo ops.
Her eight marriages and numerous scandalous headlines filled the public imagination and let us all believe that a life of obscurity sure beat the perils of celebrity. That's true, too, as any public figure will swear in a court of law.
Liz Taylor won two Oscars for acting but her greatest accomplishment occurred in the '80s when she became an unlikely activist for AIDS awareness.
The public found it hard to believe that she would be taken seriously. Shouldn't celebs just hawk their beer and soft drinks and perfumes on TV and not bother us with any social causes? In the 1980s, the mantra was "Don't worry — be happy. Reagan was president, it was morning in America, and everything was peachy.
But not everything. The AIDS epidemic had claimed movie icon Rock Hudson to his fans' amazement. Taylor took it upon herself to speak out, even going so far as to criticize by name President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle for that administration's neglect of the spreading disease.
I admire people of all stripes who aren't afraid to risk their popularity and challenge authority. Boat-rockers aren't too popular most of the time. But remember, the U.S. was founded on the notion of fighting back against oppression. Even scandalous actresses deserve credit when they speak out and tell the truth.
Liz Taylor should be honored for her acting — and her real life, too.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column.
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