The Tragic Story Of Elizabeth Taylor's Many Marriages

When it comes to Hollywood royalty, few names gleam and ring greater than Elizabeth Taylor. The two-time Oscar winner was born to American parents in 1932 in London, England; seven years later, the family moved to the United States as the threat of war loomed large over Europe. As history proved, Taylor would become one of the most iconic performers ever to grace the silver screen. The acclaimed actress achieved immense success, dazzling audiences and critics with hits like "Cleopatra," "BUtterfield 8," and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" However, no matter how high her film career soared, the drama and scandals of Taylor's personal life constantly followed her and earned her equal fame (and notoriety).

Taylor married eight times during her lifetime, with each relationship never failing to make headlines; the actress's love life demanded just as much attention as her prominent film career. All of her marriages, except for one, ended in divorce, with each, in some form or another, presenting a tragic chapter in the life of Elizabeth Taylor.

Conrad Hilton Jr.

Elizabeth Taylor's first marriage was to Conrad "Nicky" Hilton Jr., eldest son of hotel mogul Conrad Hilton. The two met at the famed Mocambo nightclub in Los Angeles in October 1949. Taylor, 18 and having already cemented herself as a star with prominent roles in films like "National Velvet" and "A Date With Judy," was desperate to free herself from parental and studio control. In May 1950, the two married in Beverly Hills in an extravagant ceremony, with thousands of fans huddled outside the church.

In her 1987 memoir, "Elizabeth Takes Off," the actress described her great desire to get married at such a young age and her initial encounters with Hilton. "Dazzled by his charm and apparent sophistication, driven by feelings that could not be indulged outside of marriage, desperate to live a life independent of my parents and the studio, I closed my eyes to any problems and walked radiantly down the aisle." However, Taylor's hopes for a true romance were quickly dashed during her very first honeymoon. Hilton proved to be cruel and erratic. According to Taylor, he drank heavily, physically and mentally abused her, ignored her, and struggled to cope with her towering popularity. As the newlywed couple toured Europe, Taylor forced smiles while realizing she had no idea how to deal with her cold and inattentive husband.

After the honeymoon, the British-born actress knew the marriage was over. It took a while for divorce to arise, with the case being brought to court in January 1951. During the hearing, Taylor was in tears and spoke in hushed whispers. "The collapse of my marriage was a dreadful blow to my self-esteem. And like everything in my life, the entire fiasco was played out before the public" (per "Elizabeth Takes Off").

Michael Wilding

For someone like Elizabeth Taylor, who constantly desired to replicate the cinematic romances she portrayed on the silver screen, Michael Wilding could have possibly been her storybook fairytale — in another lifetime, perhaps. As history proved, Taylor and Wilding's marriage was simply one that time relentlessly prodded at until the romance was extinguished. The two married in February 1952, and according to Taylor, the union began with great admiration and hope. The couple's first son, Michael Jr., was born in January 1953, and they welcomed their second, Christopher, two years later. Taylor's children gave her immense happiness. "Motherhood gave me very positive feelings about myself and my only regret was that I couldn't spend more time at home" (via "Elizabeth Takes Off").

While motherhood brought the actress great joy, her marriage to Wilding was met with immediate financial difficulties; upon her return from maternity leave, monetary concerns dictated that Taylor accept subpar screenplays, and during this time, her marriage began to deteriorate. The age gap and mounting personality differences simply became too great for Taylor to ignore. All the while, her career continued to grow and shine bright, as Wilding's dwindled and faltered. 

The couple divorced on amicable terms in 1957. However, while Taylor would always acknowledge Michael Wilding as a great father and man, the picture she painted regarding the marriage was one of a slow and draining death. "Life had no more meaning. I was dead, old at 24. It was just smog and no sunshine. We would wake up in the morning without hope, with nothing to do or talk about, with no reason for living out the day. At last we decided to separate and we took the step" (per "Richard & Elizabeth," by David Lester).

Mike Todd

Shortly after her divorce from Wilding, Taylor was quick to marry film producer Mike Todd, and by her own account, she was unfathomably happy with him. "God, I loved him. My self-esteem, my image, everything soared under his exuberant, loving care" (per "Elizabeth Takes Off"). The two had met during Taylor's previous marriage. By the time she had filed her separation paperwork, Todd was already aggressively attempting to court the 24-year-old star; he was some 23 years her senior.

Taylor and Todd married in Acapulco, Mexico, in February 1957 and welcomed their daughter, Elizabeth Frances Todd, in August of that year. The couple's union was one of frenzied love. Their boisterous personalities craved the spotlight, with the couple going so far as to stage fights in public so they could share a laugh over the morning paper the following day. According to Debbie Reynolds, a fellow actress and friend, she had never before seen such love and devotion between a couple.

Tragically, Mike Todd died in a plane crash on March 22, 1958, in New Mexico. The event absolutely scarred Taylor, and for a time, the actress did not believe she could continue after her husband's death. For the remainder of her life, Taylor was always honest with how attached she was to Todd's memory. "I have had two great loves in my life. Mike Todd was the first" (per "Elizabeth Takes Off").

Eddie Fisher

While still mourning her husband's death, Elizabeth Taylor found comfort in the presence of Eddie Fisher, a singer and friend of Mike Todd's. During this grieving period, a relationship brewed between the two, despite Fisher being married to Debbie Reynolds. Years later, while reflecting on her life in "Elizabeth Takes Off," Taylor acknowledged that Mike Todd's death clouded her better judgment and served as the driving force for her relationship with Fisher, stating: "My intense loneliness, combined with the nearness of someone who had been so close to my beloved, made me susceptible. In hindsight, I know I wasn't thinking straight. At the time I thought he needed me and I needed him."

Fisher would leave his wife and marry Taylor in May 1959. The union was not destined to be a happy one. Like Nicky Hilton, Taylor's fourth husband proved to be a volatile personality. And not long into the marriage, Taylor found herself engaged in another affair, this time with Richard Burton. According to multiple sources, the marriage was so turbulent that it culminated in Fisher drawing a gun on his wife. "Don't worry, Elizabeth," he said, according to "Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century" (per Vanity Fair). "You're too beautiful to kill."

In January 1964, Taylor sued for divorce in order to escape her marriage with Fisher and marry Burton. A judge granted the divorce two months later.

Richard Burton

If the phrase "Hollywood power couple" ever required a textbook definition, it would need to have a photo of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton next to it. In a notorious scandal that rocked the media landscape of the '60s, the global stars began seeing each other while filming "Cleopatra." Both were married at the time. By March 1964, Taylor and Burton tied the knot, and what ensued was a decade-long relationship filled with alcohol and headlines.

For much of her adult life, Taylor consistently spoke of her admiration for Burton and seemed to always use ethereal language when describing their relationship. "What can I say about my life with Richard Burton other than that it was full of transcendent joy" (per "Elizabeth Takes Off"). However, as powerful as their love was for one another, Taylor and Burton's marriage was one plagued with addiction. Throughout her career, Taylor had been reliant on painkillers and sleeping pills, often mixing the two with alcohol. Meanwhile, Burton dealt with alcoholism for the majority of his life and, according to those close to Taylor, the excessive drinking was so severe that she threatened to leave him countless times.

The couple's fast-paced, lavish, and compulsive lifestyle, along with Burton's extramarital activities, led the marriage down a dark path riddled with constant arguing and jealousy. They officially divorced in 1974. However, Taylor truly believed a separation would only be temporary, stating the year before: "I believe with all my heart that this separation will ultimately bring us back to where we should be—and that is, together" (via The New York Times).

Richard Burton -- Part II

Immediately after the divorce, Burton frequently tried to call Taylor multiple times a day, even while she was filming "The Blue Bird" in Leningrad. However, Taylor remained adamant regarding Burton's drinking and allegedly gave him a simple ultimatum: "Booze, no me. No booze, me" (via "Richard & Elizabeth"). Burton replied by chasing younger women. However, Taylor's earlier prophecy eventually turned into a reality, and the couple married again in October 1975. This time, the marriage would last less than a year.

Taylor and Burton's second troubled attempt at matrimony more or less replicated their previous marriage. While it's been noted that he did not drink as heavily this time around, this did nothing to lessen his and his wife's flaring tempers. The two continued to argue constantly. Jealousy still ran rampant — David Lester's book specifies that Taylor was furious after discovering his husband's infatuation with Susan Hunt, a 27-year-old British model. (Burton would marry Susan in 1976).

Hollywood's most talked about couple divorced for the final time in 1976. The move devastated Taylor. According to "Furious Love," the actress confided to a friend after the divorce. "I don't want to be that much in love ever again ... I gave everything away ... my soul, my being, everything" (per Vanity Fair).

John Warner

Shortly after her divorce from Burton, Elizabeth Taylor married American politician John Warner in December 1976. After the latter won the 1978 Senate election in Virginia, with the help of his superstar wife vigorously campaigning for him, Taylor found herself extremely ill-suited for life in Washington, D.C. Her husband was often away either at Capitol Hill or campaigning for others. Taylor suffered from the immense isolation, away from the familiar social circles she once knew, and heavily indulged in eating and drinking. She gained 40 pounds, which allegedly drew insults from Warner.

Taylor quickly found life as a senator's wife, especially when compared to her earlier existence in Los Angeles or roaming the world as Hollywood's greatest star, very constrictive. In D.C., it was suddenly unbecoming for a prominent woman to wear purple; even having too many pets was apparently a cause of concern. According to Taylor herself, her marriage with Warner delivered an aimless existence. "I was almost fifty when for the first time in my life I lost my sense of self-worth. I lost it because after my husband, John Warner, was elected to the United States Senate I felt I'd become redundant. Like so many Washington wives and so many other women at different times in their lives, I had nothing to do. The image the public had of me, and my own self-image, was shot" (per "Elizabeth Takes Off").

The couple's downward marriage further soured in 1981, when Taylor publicly called for stricter gun control legislation after the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, against Warner's wishes. The couple divorced soon after in 1982.

Larry Fortensky

Elizabeth Taylor married for the final time in October 1991. This time around, it wasn't to a prominent Senator or A-list celebrity. Taylor once again found a way to shock the media after marrying Larry Fortensky, a construction worker 20 years younger than her. Taylor spoke with immense optimism when it came to her eighth marriage. "I always said I would get married one more time and with God's blessings, this is it, forever" (per the Los Angeles Times).

The couple had met in rehab in 1988 at the Betty Ford Clinic, where Fortensky was attempting to work through his alcoholism, and Taylor her addiction to pills. For a time, the marriage was a happy one. However, Fortensky never seemed to get accustomed to his wife's immense celebrity. "Those cameras everywhere," Fortensky once explained. "Elizabeth was used to it. I never got used to it" (per People). As was the case with Burton, Fortensky's struggles with alcohol ran deep; in May 1992, he was arrested and charged with drunk driving. In October 1996, the couple divorced. 

While it was on amicable terms, People did report that Taylor said, "He stopped working. You can't have love without respect." After her divorce, Taylor swore off marriage for good, and passed away in 2011 at 79.

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