Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958
Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd.
Taylor was one of the first celebrities to participate in HIV/AIDS activism, helping to raise more than $270 million for the cause. She began her philanthropic work in 1984, after becoming frustrated with the disease being widely discussed, but very little being done about it. She later explained for Vanity Fair that she “decided that with my name, I could open certain doors, that I was a commodity in myself – and I’m not talking as an actress. I could take the fame I’d resented and tried to get away from for so many years – but you can never get away from it – and use it to do some good. I wanted to retire, but the tabloids wouldn’t let me. So, I thought: If you’re going to screw me over, I’ll use you.”
Taylor began her philanthropic efforts by helping to organize and by hosting the first AIDS fund-raiser to benefit the AIDS Project Los Angeles. In August 1985, Dr. Michael Gottlieb and she founded the National AIDS Research Foundation after her friend and former co-star Rock Hudson announced that he was dying of the disease. The following month, the foundation merged with Dr. Mathilde Krim’s AIDS foundation to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). As amfAR focuses on funding research, Taylor founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1991 to raise awareness and to provide support services for people with HIV/AIDS, paying for its overhead costs herself. Her trust continues to do so, and 25% of her image and likeness royalties are donated to ETAF. In addition to her work for people affected by HIV/AIDS in the United States, Taylor was instrumental in expanding amfAR’s operations to other countries; ETAF also operates internationally.
Taylor testified before the Senate and House for the Ryan White Care Act in 1986, 1990, and 1992. She persuaded President Ronald Reagan to acknowledge the disease for the first time in a speech in 1987, and publicly criticized presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton for lack of interest in combatting the disease. Taylor also founded the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center to offer free HIV/AIDS testing and care at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D. C., and the Elizabeth Taylor Endowment Fund for the UCLA Clinical AIDS Research and Education Center in Los Angeles. In 2015, Taylor’s business partner Kathy Ireland claimed that Taylor ran an illegal “underground network” that distributed medications to Americans suffering from HIV/AIDS during the 1980s, when the Food and Drug Administration had not yet approved them. The claim was challenged by several people, including amfAR’s former vice president for development and external affairs, Taylor’s former publicist, and activists who were involved in the Project Inform in the 1980s and 1990s.