Elizabeth Taylor’s Decades-Long Effort to End the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

The actress was one of the first public personas willing to discuss the epidemic, and did so until her death.

By Jorge Rivas Mar 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, the actress whose name was synonymous with Hollywood glamour, died Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 79.

Taylor’s career spanned six decades, more than 50 films and two Academy Awards. But she leaves a legacy that goes beyond her films. After the death of her friend and co-star Rock Hudson, she was a founder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and began her work as a spokesperson and fundraiser in the fight against AIDS.

She did this in the early 1980s when few public personas were willing to discuss the disease, including President Ronald Reagen.

In 1986 Taylor testified before Congress to ensure Senate support for the Ryan White CARE Act, which became the primary vehicle for federal funding of treatment and care of people living with HIV/AIDS. The act provides care for low-income, uninsured and under-insured people living with HIV/AIDS and their families. The CARE Act transformed the lives of patients who worried about how they would pay for enormously expensive care.

The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) was established in 1991 to raise funds and awareness to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS with focus on direct care and prevention education. The Foundation operates at zero overhead cost–Taylor personally underwrote all costs for raising and administering the Foundation’s funds, allowing 100 percent of all donations received to be put to work serving people with HIV/AIDS.