Taylor’s illnesses certainly haven’t diminished her appetite for things that sparkle and shine. Today she’s sporting hundreds of tiny diamonds, on a cuff bracelet and a pair of four-inch pendant earrings. And there’s the big one on her finger, the legendary Krupp diamond, which Richard Burton gave to her in 1968.
“When I first went to Russia with Mike Todd, in the Fifties, I had on his engagement ring, which was 29 and 7/8 carats,” she remembers. “Mike insisted I say 29 and 7/8, because 30 would have been vulgar.” She holds her hand up with a laugh. “But with this one I broke the sound barrier. This is vulgar.” And, yes, she’s proud of it – “every inch of it.”
In recent years, Taylor has been delighted to see more young stars draping themselves with gems and discovering the joys that only bling can bring. “But everybody just borrows jewelry now, which just goes totally against my grain,” she says, smiling. “I mean, people have loaned me jewelry, and I’ve always enjoyed wearing it, but the trouble is, I end up buying it. Finally my accountants had a word with me.” Her last big splurge: a yellow daisy necklace that Van Cleef & Arpels loaned her for the 1992 Academy Awards. “ I didn’t mean to buy it,” she says. “But Valentino made me a yellow dress and I didn’t have anything else yellow to wear with it. So, what was a person to do?”
On Taylor’s lap as she speaks is her constant companion, a 12-year-old Maltese named Sugar. At night, the dog sleeps on Taylor’s pillow, just above her head. “I’ve never loved a dog like this in my life,” she says, stroking its silky white fur. “It’s amazing. Sometimes I think there’s a person in there.” She knows there isn’t, but still. “There’s something to say for this kind of love – it’s unconditional.” She laughs. “Yet the physical contact that one desires is sadly missing. Ah well, I guess it’s good when you get old, although I haven’t accepted it entirely.”
For much of her life, when her romantic adventures were a worldwide obsession, Taylor was seen as someone who couldn’t survive without a husband or a lover (or, occasionally, both). Right now she has neither, and she insists that she’s surviving just fine. “I’ve learned to be alone,” she says. “And being without a mate doesn’t mean you’re alone. I have great friends, and children and grandchildren. And memories – wonderful memories.”
Taylor doesn’t hesitate when asked to name her life’s happiest periods. There were to: her years with Todd, who was killed in a plane crash, and later, her years with Burton. The darkest periods came after each of their deaths. “I didn’t think I’d recover, either time,” she says. Evidently, her three surviving ex-husbands (Eddie Fisher, Senator John Warner, Larry Fortensky) don’t object when she proclaims that Todd and Burton were the big loves of her life. “Oh, they agree!” she chirps. Taylor has always remained friendly with her exes (“except Edna,” she says, using her term of nonendearment for Fisher, whom she split with bitterly in 1964). Last year, on the day Warner got married again, he called her from outside the church to share the news. “I’m happy he’s remarried,” she says, smiling. “And I hope he’s better to his new wife that he was to me.”