Because I was born in 1974, I didn’t know Liz Taylor as an actress. I didn’t even know her as an AIDS activist, because she started that crusade several years before I’d heard of the disease. The first time I saw Liz Taylor, she was “Michael Jackson’s friend,” which carried a lot of weight with a girl who wanted nothing more than to get a replica of his red jacket. My dad, a former Marine, wouldn’t let me indulge my growing appreciation of the King of Pop because he was suspicious of his high pitched voice and crotch-grabbing. (Consequently, that Thriller album was the last one I’d know by heart.)
However, I’d occasionally pick up bits and pieces about Mrs. Taylor. I noticed, for example, when she criticized President Bush for not doing enough for AIDS, when her friend Rock Hudson died of the disease, when I saw White Diamond perfume ads in my Seventeen magazine, and when she married a construction worker.
Only yesterday, when I heard the news of her death, did I ever sit down and read about her many accomplishments — and marriages — and the person who once seemed to me only a potential punchline for a Letterman monologue began to seem real and very impressive. I was amazed at her many lead film roles and about how her private romantic life made headlines for years. (Let’s just say she would not have been Team Aniston.)
And such is the fleeting nature of fame. Perhaps the most famous movie star (and sex symbol) in history, her death causes barely a ripple amongst entire generations. It should be a gentle reminder to all women — all of us who struggle with those last ten pounds, who don’t even own four-inch heels, and who sometimes despair of glamour while driving three kids to school in a minivan — that legacies are not built on fame or sex or wealth, or even by a Drudge headline on the day of our passing. Our legacies instead are built by the kids in that van and by the husband who’s with you from the moment you wore white and said “I do” to the moment one of you says your final earthly goodbye.
Faithfulness, children, enduring marriage, and stretch marks. They may not be sexy, but they are the true legacies that even the most glamorous, upon reflection, wish they’d had.
The one and only.