It was another week of turmoil in the star-crossed life of Elizabeth Taylor. In London, a somber-faced Liz appeared at a memorial service for her great love, Richard Burton. The next day in New York, her publicist confirmed what many had suspected: Taylor and Mexican lawyer Victor Luna had officially broken off their engagement, and she had returned the Cartier-designed 16½ carat sapphire-and-diamond engagement ring that he gave her in August of 1983.
Since the announcement of the split came so soon after Burton’s death, it was assumed that the breakup had been precipitated by Taylor’s grief. But Chen Sam, Liz’s longtime publicist, denied that there was any connection. “The decision was made three months ago when Richard Burton was still alive,” she insisted. At his law office in Guadalajara, a troubled Luna confirmed that statement in a slow, melancholy voice. “I am very sad because it is true that we have broken off our engagement,” he said. “It happened about two months ago. The main reason was because we cannot stay in the same place. Elizabeth works in Los Angeles or other parts of the world and I have to be here in Mexico. There was no use to keep an engagement when we could not live together.” Luna insisted—as did Chen Sam—that the parting was gentle, not angry. “Things were always marvelous for us,” he said. “We traveled the world together having a truly marvelous time. She has had a wonderful time and I have wonderful memories. But life sometimes changes things. We both realized that for both of us to work, we would be apart so much.”
Friends lamented the departure of Luna from Liz’s life. Many of her pals had grown fond of him, convinced that he was genuinely in love with her, not a predator out to profit from her fame. “Elizabeth was not looking for another Richard in Victor,” one said. “She was well aware that what Victor could offer was of a more subtle nature—caring, devotion—not the passion and chemistry she had with Richard.”
But Luna is also a man of settled habits. His four children and his career are in Guadalajara, and it is there that he wanted to settle after his marriage. “Victor would have been the perfect man to settle down with if she was really ready to give it all up,” said the friend. “Victor tolerated Elizabeth’s notoriety because of his love for her, but he made it clear that their life together would not include Hollywood—at least not to the extent that she was accustomed to.”
As this new upset in her life came to light, Liz—looking physically marvelous after her stringent diet and seven weeks of treatment for addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs at the Betty Ford Center—joined Burton’s widow, Sally Hay, and his ex-wife Susan Hunt for a touching memorial at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. Like many of the 1,299 mourners present, Taylor was moved to both tears and laughter during the 70-minute tribute to her lost love. The tears came when an old recording brought back Burton’s unmistakable voice reading the words of the poet John Donne: “Death be not proud…” The laughter came when 78-year-old Welsh playwright and actor Emlyn Williams recalled seeing Burton and Taylor—both of them married to other people—in the first glow of their storied romance on the Egyptian set of the film Cleopatra in 1963. “Cupid’s dart had hit both targets and set the Nile on fire,” Williams said. “And the Tiber. Even the Thames sizzled a bit.”
When the service ended, Taylor left the church, alone but for her bodyguards, her thoughts kept to herself. “I think she would like to live a life like anybody else,” Luna would reflect a few days later. “She would like to be private sometimes without everyone looking at her.” But as she walked down the steps of St. Martin’s, it seemed as if every eye in Trafalgar Square was on her; every photographer in England, it seemed, was snapping her picture. That dream of privacy was never to be.