Elizabeth Taylor enjoyed a decades-long stint as one of Hollywood’s elite actresses. She was married eight times, was an active humanitarian for various good causes, and maintained a carefully cultivated image of luxury right up to her death. However, not many people know that Taylor also survived numerous serious health scares throughout her long life.
An early diagnosis of scoliosis left her with lifelong back issues, exacerbated by a fall from a horse while filming National Velvet. She had difficulty getting and staying pregnant, had her appendix removed, and suffered multiple bouts of pneumonia. Later in life, she had skin cancer removed and her hips replaced. She was hospitalized more than 100 times throughout her life, and, like a cat with nine lives, Elizabeth Taylor even cheated death more than once.
Watch for an insider’s glimpse into the health struggles plaguing Elizabeth Taylor since she was born. Join Facts Verse to know the details about the devastating health issues that killed Elizabeth Taylor.
Elizabeth Taylor Was Born With Scoliosis
Elizabeth Taylor was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was just a small child. The congenital condition creates a sometimes severe curvature of the spine. And this was the cause of the actress’s recurring, often debilitating back pain. It wasn’t apparent in her younger years because most adolescents don’t experience pain from the condition until they hit middle age. And by then, treatment options are limited. For Taylor, that meant a lifetime of painkillers that eventually led to an addiction to pain medication and alcohol. However, neither Taylor’s warped spine nor the pain it caused stopped her from landing role after role in films, starting at the tender age of twelve with the horse racing-themed movie National Velvet.
She Fell off a Horse in While Filming National Velvet
Speaking of back injuries, Elizabeth Taylor further damaged her spine after she fell off a horse while filming… you guessed it, National Velvet. Though Taylor was actually a very competent rider–she’d been on a horse since the age of four–there’s not much you can do when it’s your massive horse that falls over and tosses you off. Later, she had another even more severe injury. Just before her marriage to film producer Mike Todd in 1957, Taylor tripped over and landed on her tailbone. She had to have surgery to repair some discs, the surgeon taking bone from a bone bank, as well as her pelvis and hip.
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She Was Just 21-Years-Old When She Was Nearly Blinded
At just 21 years of age, when she was at the height of starry-eyed beauty and popularity, Elizabeth Taylor managed to embed a rusty splinter. It was 1953, and she was on the set of Elephant Walk. The crew had to rush her to the hospital, where she underwent immediate surgery to have it removed. The doctors at the time said Taylor was fortunate she didn’t go blind in one eye. In fact, Elizabeth Taylor was plagued with eye issues her entire life. She suffered from a rare inherited disease called lymphedema-distichiasis syndrome, which caused her to grow an extra set of eyelashes. While this made her eyes stand out and were one of her distinguishing features, she also had to have numerous surgeries to correct uncomfortable ingrown eyelashes.
Elizabeth Taylor Had Medically Difficult Pregnancies
Elizabeth Taylor had four children during her long life. It seems, however, that even her pregnancies were complicated affairs. In 1957, for example, she needed nine doctors while giving birth to her third child, who was premature. That pregnancy caused irreparable damage, and Taylor had to have a hysterectomy a decade later. There’s also an unsubstantiated rumor that Elizabeth Taylor had a child out of wedlock right before she married her first husband. The child was given up for adoption and went to live with a family in Ireland. Though how she would have hidden her pregnancy on set is anyone’s guess.
She Had Her Appendix Removed After a Vacation
Back pain, genetic conditions, and complicated pregnancies. Could it get any worse? Apparently, it could. In 1957, Taylor was plagued with sudden, stabbing pains in her abdomen. She was on vacation with her then-husband, Mike Todd. Rushed to the hospital once again, doctors diagnosed her with appendicitis and told her she would need an emergency appendectomy. It was just one of over one hundred operations Taylor was forced to undergo during her lifetime.
Three Years Later, Elizabeth Taylor Got a Brain Infection
In 1960, Elizabeth Taylor was once again in the press for a severe ailment. Apparently, while on the set of Cleopatra, she headed to the hospital clutching her head in pain and weeping profusely. The infection from an earlier tooth abscess had migrated into her brain, causing meningism–the membranes covering her brain were. In fact, this was a minor ailment compared to others she experienced at this time. The cold, damp filming conditions caused her bronchitis to flare up, leading to multiple bouts of pneumonia. Later, in 1961, she had to have an emergency tracheotomy so that she could breathe.
She Ended Up in Rehab
Elizabeth Taylor was going through her seventh divorce when her issues with substance abuse came to a head. The now-famous Betty Ford Center in California had just opened its doors, and she was the first A-list celebrity to receive treatment there. It was the 1980s, and there was a lot more acknowledgment of the problems drug and alcohol abuse could cause. According to The New York Times, who printed excerpts from her journals at the time, Taylor said that she felt like hell when she was there. She was going through withdrawal and was tired all the time. Just a few years later, in 1988, Taylor would enter rehab for the second and thankfully last time–though fortuitously, it was there that she met her seventh husband, construction worker Larry Fortensky.
Elizabeth Taylor Was Plagued By Pneumonia
Elizabeth Taylor’s career was at its peak in the 1940s and 1970s, but she’d been right at the top for over three decades. That’s got to take its toll on her body. She suffered from pneumonia during her younger days, even being pronounced dead four times during the 1960s. By the 1980s and 90s, when her career started to slow down, she was struck again by the life-threatening disease. In April 1990, the stunning star was hospitalized in a “serious condition,” as reported by AP News and other major outlets. According to reports from the time, Taylor underwent a lung biopsy to try to determine once and for all why she was constantly ill with pneumonia. She was even put on a ventilator to keep her breathing. A decade later, she had yet another lung infection, but it was mild and treatable this time.
And Other Respiratory Infections
Her scarily high incident of developing pneumonia wasn’t the only respiratory infection Elizabeth Taylor suffered from. In fact, she was often bedridden with one illness or another. In 1992, she even had to cancel more than a few week’s worth of appearances due to a flare-up. The bed rest was ordered by her physician at the time, Dr. Michael Roth. Her health team was worried that if she didn’t power down, reduce her fevers, and treat her immune system well, the infection might lead once again to pneumonia.
Elizabeth Taylor Had Two Hip Replacements
Elizabeth Taylor is the first to admit her “body’s a real mess.” In fact, she told W Magazine precisely that in 2004. Taylor was in her 60s when she had not one, not two, but three total hip replacement surgeries. In 1994, she got a new left hip, then in 1995, a new right hip. A little later, she had to head into the operating room yet again for corrective surgery. She was laid up for about seven days following each surgery, though hip replacement procedures typically take a good three to six months to recover fully.
The recovery from her left hip surgery was reportedly so tricky that the icon had to cancel numerous important public appearances for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. So why did Taylor need to have such invasive surgeries back to back? It turns out she has degenerative arthritis, which was causing severe pain in her hips while she exercises.
She Was Diagnosed With a Brain Tumour
It was not long after one of her more severe pneumonia scares that Elizabeth Taylor started suffering from seizures, then a stroke hit her in 1997. But it was a blessing in disguise for the famous actress: it led doctors to discover a hidden brain tumor. After testing, the tumor was, thankfully, revealed to be benign. However, it still had to be removed. Taylor was required to shave her head for the surgery, and right after boldly posed on the cover of Life magazine. The theme of the cover story was her never-give-up attitude: “The ups and downs, the problems and stress, along with all the happiness, have given me optimism and hope because I’m living proof of survival,” she said.
Heart Failure Eventually Killed Elizabeth Taylor
Despite having the constitution of an ox, this legend of the screen was finally felled by congestive heart failure in 2011. She was 79 years old. In the lead-up to her death, she’d spent two painful months in hospital. While saddened by the passing, Taylor’s close friends and family were thankful she was no longer suffering and joyful that her legend will live on. Indeed, the inspiring actress once said in an interview with Larry King: “I don’t believe our spirits die. I think our spirits are out there, and other people’s souls intermingle with ours, and I think something continues.”
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