While most Americans sat in silence behind a silent president, Elizabeth Taylor fought AIDS from the very beginning.
While many are marking Elizabeth Taylor's passing today by pointing out her great beauty or talent as an actor, we here at GOOD would be remiss if we didn't note the tremendous strides Taylor made in the fight against AIDS.
While then President Reagan remained shamefully mum at the outset of America's AIDS crisis—which is 30 years old this year—Taylor partnered with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and others to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). With that organization as her lifelong platform, Taylor raised awareness of AIDS like no one before her—and also raised more than $100 million to combat the disease.
In 1987, Taylor, then the national chairwoman of amfAR, was even able to get Reagan to break his silence on AIDS by speaking at that year's annual fundraising dinner. "I am writing from my heart to ask if you both would attend the dinner," she wrote in a letter to Ronald and Nancy Reagan prior to the event, "and if you, Mr. President, would give the keynote speech." Reagan gave the speech—six years too late, of course—and Reagan's speechwriter would later admit that the Gipper might have begged off had it not been for Taylor's personal appeal.
By the time Reagan gave that speech, 40,000 Americans had already died of AIDS. Shudder to think how long he'd have ignored those thousands passed had it not been for Elizabeth Taylor.