From giant gems to huge homes: Taylor’s billion-dollar legacy

It is a fortune that even Cleopatra might have blushed at. Elizabeth Taylor, who immortalised the amorous pharaoh in the lavish 1963 movie of the same name, died leaving behind enough money to buy a pyramid or three of her own with personal riches estimated at up to $1bn (£625m), it was claimed yesterday.

Although she had not starred in a serious film for the best part of 30 years, the double Oscar-winning actress is now believed to be one of an elite group of just 14 self-made women able to claim to be a billionaire in her own right.

Having negotiated some of the most lucrative film deals ever witnessed in Hollywood during a lengthy acting career – she was paid $4m (the equivalent of $47m today) to appear alongside her future husband Richard Burton in Cleopatra, nearly bankrupting 20th Century Fox – she spent the last decades as a virtual one-woman brand.

A deal with Elizabeth Arden in 1991 to market her own perfumes, White Diamonds and Passion, has since turned over a combined $1bn, earning the British-born actress a considerable cut. Pioneered long before the celebrity scent became de rigueur among famous women such as Celine Dion, Jennifer Aniston and even Katie Price, the cosmetics giant reported combined sales of Taylor’s fragrances last year of $69m. It said it intends to continue to produce the products despite the star’s death last week from congestive heart failure at the age of 79.

Her jewellery collection was reported to be worth $150m as far back as 2002. As well as some outsize diamonds, she also owned the celebrated La Peregrina pearl, formerly the property of Mary I.

It was also reported that Taylor had a portfolio of real estate valued in excess of $150m, including her ranch-style home in Los Angeles replete with 18th-century English furniture and antiques she bought from Nancy Sinatra in 1981.

There were also settlements from her eight marriages. In 1996, when she divorced her last husband, Larry Fortensky, Taylor was said to be worth $608m. Taylor also deployed her money-making skills to help others, raising $270m for her AIDS Foundation, which is also likely to benefit from the sale of her jewels.

The rest of her fortune is expected to be shared among Taylor’s four children, although who will benefit from her future earnings is yet to be established, according to commentators in the US yesterday. One friend was quoted as saying: “The one thing she didn’t do was understand that, much like Elvis and Michael Jackson, she might be worth more in death.”

Elizabeth’s riches

  • Taylor was a product of the Hollywood studio system, and was being paid $750 a week by MGM as a 13-year-old following the success of ‘National Velvet’. As a result, she earned more in a month than the average American earned in a year. Six years later, in 1950, she signed a new contract that paid her $2,000 a week.
  • A shrewd deal in 1991 with cosmetic giant Elizabeth Arden saw her launch the trend for celebrity fragrances. Her brands White Diamonds and Passion have generated sales of over $1bn (£625m), with White Diamonds the biggest-selling celebrity perfume in history.
  • Her lovers and her studio chiefs lavished jewels on the young actress. Her collection, valued at $150m, included a ruby and diamond Cartier necklace from husband Mike Todd, the 33.19-carat Krupp diamond from her fifth husband, Richard Burton, and a crystal and diamond lily of the valley brooch from Rex Harrison. She also owned the famous 69.42-carat pear-shaped Burton Taylor diamond, given to her in 1969.

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