The Enduring Legacy of a Hollywood Legend

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Elizabeth Taylor died in March, but in a fitting tribute, her influence and fame only continued to grow throughout the year.

Elizabeth Taylor, who died in March at age 79, continued to dominate headlines in 2011 in a spirit befitting the way in which the actress, who had been in the public eye since she was a child, lived her life.

In May, amfAR's annual Cinema Against AIDS evening at the Cannes Film Festival paid tribute to the actress, who hosted the first event in 1993. The night raised a record $10 million in auction sales, including $400,000 paid for a 1964 Andy Warhol lithograph of Taylor. The same month, the talk of New York's spring art auctions was that "Liz #5," a 1963 painting of the actress also by the artist, had sold for nearly $27 million, on par with the top money paid for any work from his "Liz" series.

Enduring interest in her life continued to translate into sales. In July came news that Taylor's Bel-Air house had sold for $8 million after a quick 33 days on the market. For the holidays, Elizabeth Arden has released a gift set of her White Diamonds perfume, which remains the world's biggest-selling celebrity fragrance with a billion dollars in retail sales over 20 years.

But nothing could top the dazzling star turn her jewelry took at Christie's, where in four days her baubles and other belongings netted a stunning $154 million from Dec. 13 to 16. Many lots sold at 10 times or more presale estimates. Beyond the numbers, the auction in New York became a pop-culture phenomenon. On the Christmas episode of Glee, Chris Colfer's Kurt logs on to check on a bid but has to settle for a facsimile. A portion of auction's proceeds will go to the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation, which she founded in 1991.

For Taylor, her passion for the men in her life and her love of gems intertwined. The lovers who did the giving to Taylor form an impressive list. There was her third husband, producer Mike Todd, who gave her an antique diamond tiara; estimated at $60,000 to $80,000, it sold for $4.2 million. In 1969, fifth (and sixth) husband Richard Burton bestowed her with a 69.42-carat pear-shape diamond, known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond, which she sold to help finance seventh husband John Warner's 1979 senatorial candidacy. In her book My Love Affair With Jewelry, Taylor writes that from age 15 she was enamored with baubles, "and I've been loyal to that love ever since." This was a woman who could say without irony, as she did in her biography, "Undeniably, one of the biggest advantages to working on Cleopatra in Rome was Bulgari's nice little shop."

"She did adore beautiful things, but as she got older she realized she was simply the custodian of these things that would one day belong to someone else," her friend Carole Bayer Sager tells THR. "And she knew, even when her business manager told her something had a steep price, that eventually the jewelry would be worth far more than what she was paying for it."

Taylor wouldn't have been surprised by the posthumous attention. According to Christie's, she was deeply involved in planning the sale for at least seven years. "It gives people a chance to have a tiny piece of something that she held in her hand," says Sager, who says she was on the computer the entire first night of the auction, watching the results. "I could imagine Elizabeth just laughing and giggling and getting excited because some of those prices were just so astronomical."

AUCTION NUMBERS

  • $154.2: Total, in millions, taken in by Christie's during its four-day sale of Taylor's estate
  • $11.8: Total, in millions, paid for the famed pearl necklace La Peregrina
  • $64,900: Price paid by Kim Kardashian for three Lorraine Schwartz bangles

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