Finding fame at such a young age, Elizabeth Taylor was thrust into the spotlight and forced to become wise beyond her years. And that included starring in romantic films with actors far older than she was.
“At barely 17, I grew up for all America to see. I was cast in Conspirator opposite one of MGM’s biggest stars, Robert Taylor, who was 38, more than twice my age,” she wrote in a 1988 People story called “Restricted: The Passionate Years.”
“In between playing passionate love scenes with a man old enough to be my father, I had to fit in three hours of lessons before three in the afternoon, otherwise production would be closed down for the day. I nearly went crazy,” she admitted. “Some afternoons my teacher would walk out on the set, grab me out of Robert Taylor’s arms, and say, ‘Sorry, Elizabeth hasn’t finished her schoolwork.’ Talk about humiliating.”
That accelerated path into on-screen romance soon influenced her real love life as well. “As I learned how to perfect my screen image, I determined to find an area where I could comfortably move into independent adulthood,” she wrote. “I soon realized the only way I could escape was through marriage.”
And that yearning kicked off a string of matrimonies, the first when she was just 18 years old. “I was then and am now an incurable romantic,” Taylor wrote in 1988. “I am sorry I did not fully understand the reasons driving me into early matrimony. At the time I just knew I ached to become a real woman, a wife.”
“My troubles all started because I have a woman's body and a child's emotions,” she also said, according to ABC News.
Throughout her life, Taylor wed seven men in eight marriages (she married Richard Burton twice), but by the time she died on March 23, 2011, she hadn’t been married since 1996, almost 15 years. Here’s a complete list of Taylor’s husbands:
Conrad 'Nicky' Hilton (Married May 1950 to January 1951)
Taylor met Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, the son of hotelier Conrad Hilton (and future great-uncle of Paris Hilton), in October 1949 at Mocambo nightclub in Los Angeles — and they were wed on May 6, 1950, at Beverly Hills’ Church of the Good Shepherd with 600 guests in attendance and an additional 3,000 fans outside. She wore a $3,500 gown at the ceremony, which MGM paid for since her film Father of the Bride was coming out. Even though Taylor was only 18 at the time of her first marriage, it wasn’t her first engagement. She had been previously engaged to football player Glenn Davis and billionaire Bill Pawley.
Michael Wilding (Married February 1952 to January 1957)
Barely a year after her divorce from Hilton, Taylor wed British actor Michael Wilding who was 20 years her senior and also on marriage number two. During their five years together, Taylor gave birth to two sons, Michael Jr. and Christopher. Christopher told Hollywood Reporter that growing up, he and his brother could play with Taylor’s Golden Globes, but not her Oscars. Eventually, as Taylor’s career skyrocketed, the couple’s relationship soured.
Mike Todd (Married February 1957 to March 1958)
By the time Taylor married entertainment producer Mike Todd — who won an Oscar for Around the World in 80 Days — a month after her divorce from Wilding, she was pregnant with their child, Liza. Todd was known to shower the young star with gifts, like the time he set up an entire display of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry in their yard or the time he had a meal flown in from Paris. Tragically Todd was killed in a plane crash in 1958 — Taylor was supposed to travel with him, but had opted out since she had a cold. “I was the happiest with Mike Todd,” Taylor said during her later years.
Eddie Fisher (Married May 1959 to March 1964)
Devastated by the tragedy of Todd’s death, Taylor turned one of their closest couple friends, Debbie Reynolds and her husband Eddie Fisher, one of the 1950s most popular singers. (Fisher had been a best man at Taylor and Todd’s wedding.) But soon Taylor and Fisher started an affair and Fisher left Reynolds. “I divorced Debbie and married Elizabeth the day I finished my run at the Tropicana, ” Fisher said, according to Vogue. “It was a typical two-rabbi Jewish ceremony. As usual, Elizabeth was late for her own wedding… We were married under the chuppah, a canopy, and as is traditional, at the end of the ceremony, I stomped on a wine glass.” Taylor had said, “Our honeymoon will last 40 years,” according to ABC News. Five years later, they divorced.
Richard Burton (Married March 1964 to June 1974 and October 1975 to August 1976)
Taylor was still married to Fisher when she reconnected with Burton on the Cleopatra set in 1962 (they had met at a party a decade before that). “When I saw him on the set of Cleopatra, I fell in love and I have loved him ever since, practically my whole adult life,” she wrote in People. Their romance was so passionate, it often ignited into fights. Ironically, after starring together in a 1973 TV movie Divorce His, Divorce Hers, they actually divorced a year later. But by October 1975, they remarried — though it didn’t even last a whole year. “Even when we could no longer live together, we continued to love each other,” she continued in 1988. “To this day, my feelings for him are so strong I cannot speak about him without being overcome with emotion.”
John Warner (Married December 1976 to November 1982)
After her double marriage to Burton, Taylor turned to politics — for love, that is. She wed former U.S. Secretary of the Navy John Warner, who later became a five-term U.S. Senator for Virginia. The two met at a Washington, D.C., dinner for Queen Elizabeth II, at which Warner was asked to escort Taylor. Even though he’s a Republican and she was a Democrat, they connected, especially over their shared love of horses. “I found her very interesting, fascinating. She is a great conversationalist, and she is just a lot of fun,” he told People. They remained friendly until her 2011 death.
Larry Fortensky (Married October 1991 to October 1996)
Taylor's final marriage was to a construction worker who she met during her time in rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1988. “Elizabeth was in there for pills, I was in there for beer,” he told People. “I knew who she was, of course, but I can’t tell you that I remember watching any of her films. She was funny and sweet, and the more I got to know her, the sweeter she became…we had an instant physical attraction.” They wed at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch and while they had playful moments together, ultimately the spotlight was too much. “Those cameras everywhere… Elizabeth was used to it. I never got used to it,” he said. “I have wonderful memories of my time with Elizabeth, and I will treasure her memory forever… I love her. I always will. And I know she loved me too.” They also kept in touch for the remainder of her life.