Being in the midst of a self-imposed Facebook exile, and therefore not privy to the instantaneous news feed I’m used to on there, I was relieved to see a few minutes ago on dlisted.com that Dame Elizabeth is no longer in pain. In her own words, she was not a lady, but a broad. And that broad became a double-Oscar-winning Dame and one of the primary benefactors for AIDS research. She was 79.
If I’m not mistaken, I wrote a blog about Liz Taylor and Richard Burton back in the fall when I became obsessed with them whilst doing my darndest to avoid anything school-related. I consumed a couple of bios on them, several movies, and even wrote Dame Elizabeth for her autograph. I’m actually looking at said autograph sitting across the room from me in a shadow box: the Interview magazine dedicated completely to her, with her Warhol screen print (complete with ravishing violet eyes) as the cover. I knew when I wrote for the autograph that she might not be alive much longer, but who knew she’d only be around less than six more months.
It’s here that this blog takes an awkward turn, and there’s no better place to start an awkward turn than with an awkward sentence: All I learned about heavy drinking, I learned from Elizabeth Taylor. I think I can say that with a smile on my face since I’m three weeks sober, and since today is a day to celebrate her life and what a remarkable, gorgeous, flawed, courageous human being she was. One of the more memorable anecdotes from one of the bios I read on her–I can’t begin to look it up to quote it directly since I read three or four books–is told from the perspective of the son of Joseph Mankiewicz, the director of 1963’s Taylor-Burton extravaganza Cleopatra. The teenage boy went in the makeup trailer to give her a message from his father, and Elizabeth asked him to refill her glass as she read the message. He went to the faucet to refill it with water, and she called his name and pointed to a bottle of Smirnoff down the counter. She’d been drinking the vodka straight, minutes before her scenes were to be filmed. Of course he was appalled, but he soon realized this is how she and Burton operated. Burton, it must be noted, died in 1984 from the effects of his notoriously heavy drinking. Taylor was one of the first celebrities to go to rehab at Betty Ford, and she battled addictions to alcohol and painkillers for many years. I had only been drinking for two years, and only about ten months very heavily, so it’s not been a life-long battle to quit, though the last three weeks have been some of the longest of my life.
Not to steal any thunder from Taylor’s death, and it’s no secret she cheated death many times, but this seems as good a time as any to admit that I’m an alcoholic. Some may think I’m being melodramatic, some may think I’m doing it just for attention, but when it comes down to it, only the liquor store clerk, the Lord, and myself know how much I was drinking. And might I say it was alot, to the point that I don’t know how I graduated in December, much less held down a job, didn’t get a DUI, and did it all with very, very few people knowing I was drinking daily. I won’t say much more about it since this is a public blog, but by the grace of God I’ve been saved, forgiven, and life goes on, one sober day at a time. Those who want to accompany me on my journey back to sobriety are more than welcome to tag along; those who want to condemn me or think I’m pulling some sort of “attention whore stunt” can think that. (It’s remarkable to think anyone would think someone else would make such claims for the sake of undue attention alone, but what do I know. The fact is I couldn’t care any less about those people’s opinions.) In the end, I know I’ve done what’s best for me and my health, and the peace that passes all understanding is ever so much more calming, soothing, and amazing than any Smirnoff could ever be. Thank you, Lord, for that peace.
I’ll close with these Tweets from Dame Elizabeth, which can still be viewed on Twitter under “DameElizabeth,” but I’d like to record them for posterity’s sake here as well.
Always keep love and humility in your heart.
Never let yourself think beyond your means…mental, emotional or any otherwise.
You are who you are. All you can do in this world is help others to be who they are and better themselves and those around them.
Give. Remember always to give. That is the thing that will make you grow.
That is the thing that will give back to you all the rewards that there are. Don’t do it for yourself, because then it becomes selfish.
Because then it becomes about yourself…which is wrong. Giving is to give to God. Helping is to help others.
Every breath you take today should be with someone else in mind. I love you.
–Elizabeth Taylor, 7.22.10
Thank you for all the life lessons you taught me, Dame Elizabeth. Especially the humble, selfless, graceful, resilient ones.