The Passion of Elizabeth Taylor
BY Jeff Yarbrough
March 23 2011 12:30 PM ET
The Advocate’s interview with Elizabeth Taylor took place on July 29 in her Los Angeles home. Taylor had just returned from addressing the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
On October 12 you’ll be back in Washington, leading a procession from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial as grand marshal of the National AIDS Candlelight March. How did your participation come about?
Well, for the past two years, I’ve been trying to get involved, but I couldn’t because of my hip surgery. I was thrilled when I was asked to be the grand marshal. But it’s going to be rather tricky with my metal hips.
Does it annoy you on some level that society has created a fund-raising situation in which an organization or benefit can raise ten times its usual amount if your name is attached to it?
Just giving the use of your name doesn’t really mean anything. You have to be physically involved, be a participant, and show up and make yourself a part of the organization. There are so many AIDS hospices that I visit, and I get to find out directly from people who have AIDS what their needs are. It becomes much more personal if you’re involved that way than just being on a political platform or speaking out.
Fame can be very handy. Some people are always complaining about being famous and saying, “I want my privacy” — well, this is a time to take your fame and use it as clout and do some good with it.
How is it that you decided 11 years ago to use your fame in battling AIDS?
I remember complaining, “Why isn’t anybody doing anything? Why isn’t anyone raising money?” And it struck me like lightning: “Wait a second, I’m not doing anything.”
So with the help of several other people, we put on the first-ever gay benefit here, the Commitment to Life. Betty Ford was the guest of honor, and it took about a year to put together. I’ve never heard so many nos in my life. Oh, my God, it was unbelievable! Nobody in this town wanted to know or be a part of it. They said, “No, this is one you want to stay away from. There’s a stigma.” I didn’t even know that Rock Hudson was sick yet. I found that out two or three months after I was involved.
That’s amazing! Everyone—
Assumes it was because of Rock that I became involved. It was just the opposite. I became involved, then I heard about Rock.
Did it ever occur to you that without the work you did early on, we might not be as far along in this fight as we are?
No, because all I see is how much more has to be done. I’m a piece of sand on the beach. And in order to create a beachhead, we need millions more like me.
You were very critical during the Reagan and Bush administrations about their lack of initiative in regard to AIDS. What do you make of Bill Clinton’s efforts?
I wish President Clinton were more direct, more hands-on. He’s been given a chance to turn the world around and be outspoken on an issue that’s controversial to still so many people, but it would take enormous daring. I had hoped that he would. I really thought he had the chutzpah and the cojones.
Do you think President Clinton would be more active on AIDS issues during a second term?
I hope he’d take the chance and say, “OK, folks, be ready for action, because I’ve waited four years to take this opportunity to do what I promised I’d do four years ago.”
I really hope, of course, that he gets in. There’s something about Dole that frightens me. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to: I think he’s homophobic.
Why do you think so?
It’s just an instinctive feeling. The man has the right to whatever feelings he has. But because of his waffling attitude on certain issues, it makes me think he’s homophobic. I don’t think it takes a lot of delving into Bob Dole to come to that kind of conclusion. A lot of people would read that.