“Like the rest of the world, I was deeply and profoundly saddened--(but) not shocked, because this is the kind of thing that, unfortunately, we in the world of AIDS have been expecting to happen.”
Elizabeth Taylor, undoubtedly the world’s most prominent crusader against AIDS, was reacting to the news that Lakers’ point guard Earvin (Magic) Johnson had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS-.
“We expected (it would take) somebody famous--either a man or a woman, a very heterosexual macho man or a very female female--to come down with AIDS before people really sat and (paid) attention to the fact that AIDS is not just a minority group disease. It’s a heterosexual disease. It’s everyone’s disease. And people have not been listening to our words of warning,” she said.
Taylor talked about Johnson in a telephone interview from her Los Angeles home Saturday afternoon just a few hours before she was honored by the Pacific Center for her efforts in battling AIDS.
The Pacific Center is a nonprofit Los Angeles organization that provides free counseling and therapy in therapists’ offices to people with HIV and AIDS; if they are too sick to travel, counseling is done in homes or hospital rooms.
Taylor said she doesn’t know Johnson, nor has she spoken to him about enlisting his support in raising funds or educational efforts, even though he has reportedly already fielded about 1,000 entreaties for help in the fight against AIDS.
“No, I mean, the man has just been given a death sentence. I don’t know him. I haven’t met him. My heart breaks for him and his entire family. I think it’s a bit ghoulish to call this soon and say, ‘Hey, join my bandwagon.’ I would like to meet him and ask him and his wife to come up and have tea and talk to him on a quiet social basis to see if there’s something we can do to help him with our expertise in counseling or whatever, rather than seeing what we can get from him.
“Of course,” she added, “I think his image could certainly help enormously the youth of America if he decides to become a spokesperson because he is a hero.”
On Saturday night, it was clear that Taylor was a hero as well. She received two standing ovations--the first for just walking in with her new husband, Larry Fortensky, and sitting down at her table, where she was engulfed by a phalanx of security guards and joined by friends like Waldo Fernandez. The second ovation came after she accepted the award presented by Angela Lansbury, her “National Velvet” co-star in 1944. Lansbury said Taylor was “unarguably the most famous woman in the world.”
The evening, attended by more than 1,000 people at the Westin Bonaventure, also featured two hours of entertainment and an auction with stars like Carol Burnett, Steven Seagal, Patti LuPone and Nell Carter.
Said David Goldstein, president of the board of Pacific Center: “We’re a small-potatoes organization.” A year and a half ago, “we had $900 in the bank.” Taylor’s presence at the event meant that Pacific Center would raise about $350,000, and that was a low estimate, said Goldstein.
Earlier that day, Taylor explained that she gave her support to the Pacific Center because, not long ago, one of her “very best friends” had committed suicide.
“He was HIV positive. He was receiving counseling and certainly had all the love in the world. But it made me realize, with a sense of horror, how insufficient our counseling and psychotherapy is for the patient who can’t afford it and how vitally important it is to make life for the patient as tenable as possible, as liveable as possible and to give that person as much dignity as possible.”
Taylor recently established her own Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Fund, which is the beneficiary of the sales of the photographs taken at her recent wedding. She estimates that project will exceed her projections of $1 million.
Taylor thinks the government should be doing more. “I don’t think the government has begun to touch on all the areas that they can help. I don’t think even the government realizes the vast extent of this epidemic.”
Does Taylor think a cure to the deadly disease will be found in her lifetime?
“I think it better. They’ve been working on a cure for cancer for 100 years, and cancer and AIDS are very closely linked. If you look at the rate of acceleration of AIDS in the last 10 years, if there isn’t a cure in the next 100 years, we’re going to be left with a dead planet. That’s a pretty scary thought.’
AIDS, of course, isn’t the only thing on Taylor’s mind these days. She reported that her new fragrance, White Diamonds, is selling extremely well. And since the Fortenskys have returned from a month-long trip to Tangier, Switzerland and London, Mrs. Fortensky finds married life to be “great.”
“We’re still on our honeymoon,” she added.