Elizabeth Taylor dead at 79

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s film, Butterfield 8. (Source: CNN)
Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s film, Butterfield 8. (Source: CNN)

LOS ANGELES (RNN) - Legendary screen actress Elizabeth Taylor died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at age 79. The world-renown beauty was surrounded by her loved ones in a hospital room in Los Angeles at the time of her death.

In a statement issued to ABC News, Taylor's son, Michael Wilding, said his mother was an extraordinary woman who always lived life to the fullest.

"Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us and her love will live forever in our hearts," he said.

Taylor was born Feb. 27, 1932, in London, England. At the age of 7, her family fled Europe on the brink of World War II for the U.S.

Taylor's family moved to Los Angeles, where she was signed to Universal Pictures and made her professional film debut at the age of 10 as Gloria Twine in Harold Young's "There's One Born Every Minute."

She received three Oscars during her storied career. The first came for her portrayal of Gloria Wandrous in "Butterfield 8" in 1960. Six years later, she won a best actress statuette for her performance as larger-than-life Martha in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf."

Taylor also was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an Oscar, by The Academy of Motion Pictures in 1992 for her work with AIDS.

"I have never felt more alive than when I watched my children delight in something, never more alive than when I have watched a great artist perform, and never richer than when I have scored a big check to fight AIDS," Taylor said in a March interview with Harper's Bazaar.

Taylor began the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in October 1991. The charity funds AIDS service organizations across the globe.

"We mourn the loss of legendary actress, businesswoman, and fearless activist Elizabeth Taylor," the foundation wrote on its website Wednesday.

Taylor, one of the first vocal advocates for AIDS research, was also the founding national chairman of the American Foundation of AIDS Research.

"Her remarkable body of work in film, her ongoing success as a businesswoman and her brave and relentless advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS all make us all incredibly proud of what she accomplished," Wilding said in his statement. "We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it."

As celebrated as her acting career was, the actress's on-camera work was arguably eclipsed by her tabloid-making personal life. Taylor was married eight times, including two marriages to actor Richard Burton, her "Cleopatra" co-star.

The award-winning actress had a famous first - she was the first on-screen talent to sign a $1 million up-front contract for her performance in the title role of Cleopatra.

"I never planned to acquire a lot of jewels or a lot of husbands," Taylor said recently in an interview in Harper's Bazaar magazine. "For me, life happened, just as it does for anyone else."

Copyright 2011 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved. Sources: Internet Movie Data Base, TV Guide Biography.