Inside Elizabeth Taylor's Health Struggles

Elizabeth Taylor's legacy is marked by her decades-long career in Hollywood, her eight marriages, her humanitarian efforts, and her public image of luxury and glam. But behind the scenes of Taylor's public persona was a trail of health struggles in her almost 80 years of life. According to ABC News, Taylor suffered multiple injuries, scoliosis, skin cancer, and more than 30 surgeries. 

On top of that, the classic Hollywood actress had both of her hips replaced within a year, starting with her left hip joint in 1994. In an interview with W magazine in 2004, Taylor admitted, "My body's a real mess" (via Everyday Health). She was hospitalized more than 100 times throughout her life, per Vanity Fair.

It all began in 1944, when a pre-teen Taylor was on set for National Velvet. Thrown off a horse, the actress hurt her back, which only intensified the chronic back pain she'd feel for years to come due to her lifelong scoliosis.

This wouldn't be the last time Taylor's health problems and her career would intersect. Let's look inside Elizabeth Taylor's decades of health struggles.

Elizabeth Taylor was pronounced dead four times

The label of "dangerous profession" is often reserved for the most rigorous, active jobs. Firefighter, construction workers, and even pilots are considered to have the most dangerous professions. However, if there's anything actress Elizabeth Taylor's health journey teaches us, it's that acting can be dangerous too.

On top of injuring her back on the set of National Velvet, Taylor had to undergo eye surgery in 1953 thanks to a splinter in her eye while filming Elephant Walk, according to Everyday Health.

Just under a decade later, Taylor suffered from a terrible case of pneumonia — she was reportedly told she had one hour to live. According to a 1961 Desert Sun story, Taylor's husband at the time, Eddie Fisher, called her recovery from tracheotomy surgery a "miracle." At the time, Taylor reportedly couldn't even speak. "When she wants to say something she scribbles it down on a pad which lies beside her bed," a source told the Desert Sun. Later, in a 2006 interview with Larry King (via Everyday Health), the actress claimed she was "pronounced dead four times, so they could give me anything just to see if they could make me breathe."

Unfortunately for Taylor, this wouldn't be her last battle with pneumonia.

Elizabeth Taylor spent time in rehab

After actress Elizabeth Taylor's seventh divorce in the 1980s, she did her first stint in rehab.

The actress was the first A-lister to be treated at the newly opened Betty Ford Center in California for abusing drugs and alcohol, according to Everyday Health. The New York Times printed an excerpt of Taylor's journals during her time at the center. She wrote, "I feel like hell. I'm going through withdrawal... I am so, so tired."

A few years later in the late '80s, the actress re-entered rehab for a second time. It was during this second stint that Taylor met her seventh husband, construction worker Larry Fortensky, which would become her eighth marriage (she married Richard Burton, her fifth and sixth husband, twice). 

Although her marriage to Fortensky wouldn't last, it did mark the last time the Hollywood celeb would enter rehab. She may have been the first A-lister at Betty Ford Center, but definitely not the last.

Elizabeth Taylor got pneumonia a second time

Already a household name in Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor's reign on the big screen was beginning to fade by the late '80s and '90s. Her career peaked between the '40s and '70s, however, 30 years of being on top can take a toll on the body. After two hip replacements, a near-death experience, eye surgery, and two visits to rehab, Taylor had already experienced more health struggles than the average person by the late '90s.

Yet, already in her 60s, Taylor was struck by another case of pneumonia in 1990. An April 1990 article in AP News reported that Taylor was in "serious condition."

"She is seriously ill and on Sunday underwent a lung biopsy to further determine the cause of her pneumonia,″ said the actress's doctors at the time, according to AP News. Taylor was then put on a ventilator. 

In 1992, the actress reportedly canceled multiple appearances due to another severe respiratory infection, per her doctor's recommendation.

Elizabeth Taylor had a brain tumor

Actress Elizabeth Taylor's health struggles spanned beyond just her repeated lung infections. After her second pneumonia scare, Taylor then suffered a seizure and a stroke in 1997. Thankfully for the actress, the stroke and seizure led doctors to discover a benign brain tumor, according to Everyday Health. Taylor posed for Life magazine bald after the removal.

"The ups and downs, the problems and stress, along with all the happiness, have given me optimism and hope because I am living proof of survival," said Taylor at the time. "I've come through things that would have felled an ox."

The actress did undergo radiation therapy a few years later in 2002 for basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, per CBS News. It would take three months before the cancer was gone. Two years later, Taylor's past back injuries would flare, leading to spinal surgery to repair seven compression fractures. She also had heart surgery in 2009, having been diagnosed with congestive heart failure five years earlier.

"People must think, 'My God, she's still alive?' But there's some resilience in me that makes me keep fighting. It's the damnedest thing — I just keep coming back," said Taylor, per Everyday Health.

Elizabeth Taylor died of heart failure

After decades of the strains of Hollywood and an up and down medical history, actress Elizabeth Taylor's struggle to stay healthy eventually led to her death from congestive heart failure in 2011 at the age of 79. She had been hospitalized for two months, according to Everyday Health.

Upon her death, actress and friend turned rival Debbie Reynolds told Access Hollywood, "I'm happy that she's out of her pain, because she was in a lot of pain" (via ABC News).

Her health struggles through the years were merely an unfortunate added weight to Taylor's time in the spotlight. Eight marriages, dozens of classic Hollywood films, and the glam of Elizabeth Taylor will remain the actress's legacy for years to come. 

"I don't believe our spirits die. I think our spirits are out there, and other people's souls intermingle with ours, and ... I think something continues," said Taylor in an interview with Larry King in 2006.