At the recent 25th anniversary celebration of amfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research), Greenwich resident and AIDS pioneer Dr. Jeffrey Laurence noted that among the famous celebrity supporters in attendance -- Elton John, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder -- one shining star was missing.
Elizabeth Taylor, co-founder of amfAR, had planned on attending until three days prior to the event.
"Then she canceled, and we all thought it was another continuum of her general ill health.
But she was in heart failure. She went to Cedars-Sinai (Medical Center), and never left," said Laurence, who is director of the Laboratory for AIDS Virus Research at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York and serves on the Scientific Advisory Committee for amfAR.
Laurence, who referred to Taylor as Dame Elizabeth -- she was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 2000 -- said the actress was inspired to found amfAR after her friend and actor Rock Hudson died of complications from AIDS. "She saw early on that AIDS was an international problem that would only grow," said Laurence, who became amfAR's first scientific adviser.
Over the years, Taylor would give $100 million to amfAR, Laurence said. "She wanted to give donations to every country she made a movie in," he said, and that included Bostwana, where Taylor and Richard Burton remarried in the early 1970s.
Laurence recalled how "ET," as she was called at amfAR, would come to all of the board meetings.
"She'd come with four to eight pillows behind her back. I would do presentations before the board and she would participate and ask questions," he said.
One of Taylor's biggest contributions to combat AIDs was through raising awareness.
Then there was the time when Laurence was a guest on the Larry King show in 1996. Despite her suffering a benign brain tumor at the time, Taylor joined Laurence during his appearance to continue her efforts at lending her name to the cause.
"It was just at the start of a great new hope for people with HIV/AIDS. The first two protease inhibitors just became available," said Laurence.
On a more personal note, it was Taylor's eyes that Laurence especially remembers. "She had incredible lavender blue eyes," he said.
"They were blue violet." Those eyes were celebrated at a gay bar she frequented in Los Angeles, Laurence said.
"They had a drink in her honor called the Blue Velvet after her eyes and the movie `National Velvet.' It was made of vodka and blueberry schnapps."