The Passion of Elizabeth Taylor
BY Jeff Yarbrough
March 23 2011 1:30 PM ET
Introduction by Aileen Getty
Without the love of Elizabeth Taylor in my life, I would probably be dead — if not physically, most certainly emotionally.
I was born and raised in Italy. At the age of 15, I moved to London, and at 17, with a one-way airline ticket in hand, I flew to the United States. As a child I don’t think I was aware of Elizabeth Taylor. I had seen only Gone With the Wind, Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music. When I turned 18, living in Los Angeles, I fell in love with Christopher Wilding, the most wonderful man in the world. His mom is Elizabeth Taylor, and his father is Michael Wilding.
I first met Mom in Chichester, England, at Michael Wilding’s home, where two days earlier he had died. I met a human being who wore her heart on her sleeve, refusing to accommodate social safety codes. I met a woman who ruled; the dumber the joke, the more raucous her laugh. She was proud to be the mother of her children, eager to hang out with them and feel the scary. That was the first time I felt the love of a family, and it was safe and honest.
Chris and I married and had two divine boys, Caleb and Andrew; five years of sobriety; love; lots of laughter; and scrapbooks to house a lifetime together.
In 1985 Mom and I began walking uncharted territories, and we both became involved with the American Foundation for AIDS Research. I think AIDS became very important to Mom because she really identifies with the isolation and the abandonment that so many people with the disease experience. In her own life she has experienced abandonment on a different level, but abandonment is abandonment…period. The isolation she has experienced and lived with has been very deep. She does not have the access to the world that many of us take for granted. Fame and notoriety have a way of stealing society’s humanity. She deserves to be treated as an emotional and feeling human being.
Many of Mom’s friends are members of the gay community, and their isolation and abandonment have turned her life upside down. When Rock Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS, it was absolutely devastating for her. When he went public with that information, he got knocked around by the press very badly. I remember going through thousands of letters that had been sent to him, and so many of them focused on his “deserving it” and his sexual preference being “not God’s way.” At that time AIDS was all so new and unknown, but that did not justify people’s lack of compassion or cruelty, and this just tore Mom’s heart apart. I think these issues made her involvement in the AIDS movement absolute. She has never avoided an important issue involving humanity and the human spirit.
Right from the beginning she would visit people with AIDS, getting involved with them, talking and listening, making them feel supported and loved. This was always on her own time, and the press never knew that she was actively working with the people. I remember that there was a couple—two men—and one of them had died of AIDS. Somehow Mom got the name of the surviving partner, and she had a beautiful silver frame made for him. She was always doing wonderful things for people in need, and the press and foundations never knew that an angel was working right under their noses.
In 1985 I was diagnosed as being HIV-positive. My own family was not very supportive at that time, but Mom was incredible. Chris and I went over to her house to tell her, and we all cried and cried. I felt so guilty, so ashamed. I had been exposed to the virus because I had had an unsafe sexual affair outside of my marriage, but Mom loved me through my shame and held me tight. This can be very difficult: If you do something wrong, sometimes you feel that you want to be scolded or punished for your actions, as opposed to being loved and supported. Mom just loved me.
Now, when I see her addressing an AIDS conference or calling the president to task, it usually makes me cry. There are not many people like Elizabeth Taylor who are out on the streets working for the silent masses. Her love is unconditional, and that can be overwhelming, particularly when it is intimate, as it is in my case. I remember her yelling at me once over the telephone. She was really furious because I was using drugs. I was trying to deny it, but she is no fool, and that made her even more angry. I sobered up very quickly after that.
Mom has always been there for me. Her tough love works wonders. She is my ally, and she makes me feel like a human being. I know that I could die with Mom, and she would hold me safe and tight. Her instinct to love has given me the power and will to live. I love her…my Mom…my angel.