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It’s National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day! You’re probably pretty damn aware of HIV and AIDS, but are you aware that actress Elizabeth Taylor ran a secret underground HIV/AIDS drug smuggling ring?
Elizabeth Taylor was passionate about AIDS activism in a time when the government’s primary response to the epidemic was hateful laughter. Taylor, who lost many loved ones to AIDS, raised lots of money (and lots of public awareness) about the illness. From a 1992 Vanity Fair profile:
In the winter of 1985, when Taylor heeded the plea of seven gay men (two of whom have since died of AIDS) to sign on as chairman of the first major AIDS benefit—the Commitment to Life dinner, which netted $1 million for AIDS Project Los Angeles, a community-based service group providing hands-on care to AIDS patients—she was out there alone. No celebrity of Taylor’s stature up to that point had had the courage to put his or her weight behind a disease that was then thought to be the province of gay men. Elizabeth Taylor brought AIDS out of the closet and into the ballroom, where there was money—and consciousness—to be raised.
She also threw some serious shade at George H.W. Bush:
I don’t think President Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS,” said Taylor to a packed press conference in Amsterdam at the Eighth International Conference on AIDS. “In fact, I’m not even sure if he knows how to spell ‘AIDS.’ ”
In 1991, she started the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, a non-profit that boasts it has given $17 million to fund HIV prevention and treatment programs all over the world.
But it turns out that Taylor’s AIDS activism went even further than that. How much further? Far enough to break the law.
Model/actress/Alien From L.A. star Kathy Ireland spoke to ET about the late Elizabeth Taylor. According to Ireland, Taylor ran a secret safe house and trafficked in drugs to help AIDS/HIV patients get experimental treatments that hadn’t been approved by the FDA yet. At the time, the US government was really dragging its feet on allowing AIDS/HIV patients to access potentially life-saving treatments.
“Talk about fearless in her home in Bel-Air,” Ireland said. “It was a safe house. A lot of the work that she did, it was illegal, but she was saving lives. It was in a time when it was not something to do. Business associates pleaded with her, ‘Leave this thing alone.’ She received death threats. Friends hung up on her when she asked for help, but something that I love about Elizabeth is her courage.”
According to Ireland, Elizabeth Taylor even sold her jewelry to fund this operation, and you know how much the woman loved diamonds.
But not everyone believes the story. Sally Morrison, former vice-president for development and external affairs at the American Foundation for AIDS Research told NY Mag,
I know that Elizabeth was very supportive of the work that Project Inform was doing with experimental AIDS drugs. She contributed to the organization as a private person. And she encouraged amfAR to include some experimental agents in our treatment information. But running a West Coast buyers club? That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?
The idea of Elizabeth Taylor obtaining drugs on the black market does not seem terribly far-fetched to us. She loved gays and she really liked drugs, so why not combine the two?