03.23.11

Harvey Weinstein: Elizabeth Taylor Was AIDS' Greatest Fighter

Elizabeth Taylor was more than a Hollywood legend—she was one of the earliest champions against the AIDS epidemic. Film producer Harvey Weinstein remembers her tireless passion for the cause.

Elizabeth Taylor was more than a Hollywood legend—she was one of the earliest champions against the AIDS epidemic. Film producer Harvey Weinstein remembers her tireless passion for the cause. Plus, full coverage of Elizabeth Taylor.

Elizabeth Taylor is known around the world as an Academy Award-winning actress and screen legend, but I am privileged to have known her in one of her most incredible roles: as a fierce advocate in the fight against AIDS. This was a role she played for 25 years and she brought to it every ounce of her considerable passion, intelligence, and will. She selflessly let her star power be used for the cause. She was a cheerleader, a globetrotter and an advocate.

I first met her when she and Dr. Mathilde Krim formed Cinema Against AIDS, the amfAR charity event held every year in Cannes. Being in the movie industry, I always attend the Cannes Film Festival, and when they asked me to join them on their crusade, I heartily agreed. Elizabeth and Dr. Krim first came up with the idea that the movie community, the fashion industry and the wealthy could all be brought together to have a party and an auction, raising money to fight AIDS. It started in a small restaurant, Moulin de Mougins, whose proprietor was a fan of Elizabeth’s. We gathered a couple hundred people together, and Elizabeth got up to talk to everyone about the disease and its effects. Dr. Krim was the medical expert who spoke eloquently about how everyone could stem the tide and halt the progress of the epidemic.

Elizabeth came every year that she could, and used her own money for both expenses and donations. She was the event’s quarterback and chief fundraiser. I did my best to cajole as many movie stars as I could. Carine Roitfeld brought the models, and the fancy designers of the couture houses. Champagne would flow and a bidding war would break out over the funniest and most magical things. Someone paid $30,000 for Paul Sorvino to sing an aria. Another person paid $50,000 for Johnny Depp and Sean Penn to look into each other’s eyes and whisper sweet nothings to each other. A kiss on the cheek from a movie star would easily raise $50,000. Years later George Clooney would set the record when two women paid $350,000 each for a kiss on the cheek from him. I tried to keep him there all night but he had another engagement. Naomi Campbell did a striptease in a closet for $20,000. Dr. Krim, Elizabeth and my team just made it all up as we went along. And we all saw this event grow from a night of raising a couple hundred thousand to finally on one night, where an amazing collection of billionaires, movie stars, models and designers ended up raising $10 million in a single evening.

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As always, and Dr. Krim will echo this, there was Elizabeth. A doll in every sense of the word—fiercely intelligent, gossipy, flirtatious, and fun. But most of all, nothing could shake her confidence, as she believed that she could move the world and beat this disease, and Lord knows that woman had game!

I didn’t know Elizabeth Taylor as well as others, and again, I never had the pleasure of working with her on a film, but she is someone you never forget for all the right reasons.

Harvey Weinstein is the co-chairman of The Weinstein Company, which includes Dimension Films, the genre label that began Miramax. Since launching in 2005, The Weinstein Company has released numerous films, including the Oscar-nominated Inglourious Basterds and The Reader . Weinstein founded Miramax Films in 1979 with his brother Bob and the two helped the company release some of its most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films. Under the Weinsteins’ tenure, Miramax received 60 Academy Awards.