The Passion of Elizabeth Taylor
BY Jeff Yarbrough
March 23 2011 12:30 PM ET
The focus of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation is patient care. Why is that so important to you?
If you go in and actually see the people and say to them, “What is it I can do to help you?” and they tell you — that’s what makes your heart bleed real blood.
I went to a hospice in the Borghese Gardens in Rome, and I said to the guys — there were no women there — “What is it you would really like?” And one beautiful-looking young man said, “I would like someone to come in here and just put his arms around me and make me feel like a human being.”
Do you think Americans are a bit myopic about the AIDS epidemic, that they don’t care about what is going on in the rest of the world?
Americans generally tend to suffer from mass chauvinism. But the rest of the world is suffering.
You do have to take care of yourself, take care of your own shit. But AIDS is everybody’s own shit.
There were rumors circulating in April 1990 that you yourself actually had AIDS.
I was in the hospital, and it was said that I had AIDS. Actually, I had pneumonia and almost died, and I had Candida albicans and thrush and several things in common with AIDS. It was interesting for me, realizing that people with AIDS felt the same way I did — only I had the luxury of knowing that perhaps I would live; people with AIDS didn’t have the luxury to even dare have that thought. It awed me and scared me and made me feel so much closer to people with AIDS.
Many people with AIDS consider suicide. This was probably brought close to home for you when your personal secretary, Roger Wall, who was HIV-positive, took an overdose of sleeping pills rather than face the possibility of a lingering death. What are your feelings about his suicide?
At first I was very angry. Then I couldn’t accept it and suffered such pain. Then my anger turned into overwhelming pity and sorrow and loss. And then I started to realize that he had that right — and probably I would have done the same thing. But I don’t think you can know until it happens to you.
And you’ve had other people in your life who have fought this thing tooth and nail. Do you have any insight into what makes someone decide to go on and somebody else stop?
It depends on the people that are around you. It depends on how much suffering you’re going through, how much pain you’re in, how much of your mental capacities are gone. I hear that the main percentage of people with AIDS that kill themselves are the ones that have lost their eyesight.
You’ve talked before about having had a near-death experience. Are you less afraid of dying as a result of this, and do you ever impart that when you are talking to people at a hospice?
Sometimes I do. I was pronounced dead once and actually saw the light. I find it very hard to talk about, actually, because it sounds so corny. It happened in the late ’50s, and I saw Mike [Todd, Taylor’s third husband, who was killed in a plane crash in 1958]. When I came to, there were about 11 people in the room. I’d been gone for about five minutes — they had given me up for dead and put my death notice on the wall. I shared this with the people that were in the room next to me. Then after that I told another group of friends, and I thought, Wow, this sounds really screwy. I think I’d better keep quiet about this.
For a long time I didn’t talk about it, and it’s still hard for me to talk about. But I have shared it with people with AIDS because if the moment occurs and you’re really sharing, it’s real. I am not afraid of death, because I have been there.